In this first novel of the Poison Wars series, the fate of the corrupt city-state Silatra is in the hands of the heir of its assassinated Chancellor, who along with his sibling and companion must defend it from a military siege.
Much of City of Lies’ appeal lies in Hawke’s writing style, and the depth and narrative potential of its world and characters. But the most interesting aspect is its approach to conflict. Unlike most typical fantasy works, Hawke presents both sides of a religious war as sympathetic. This is a plot that seems to be full of antagonists, but is actually populated with basically decent people who cannot communicate with each other, either because they do not understand each other’s concerns or because their complaints are too deeply held to be negotiable. Even the real masterminds are merely selfish rather than evil. As a result, City of Lies is a story that resonates beyond its pages without overtly moralizing, which is a rare achievement in any genre. All told, Sam Hawke’s debut is an engaging, tense and deeply relevant story within an intriguing world that lends itself well to further exploration.
The book’s title refers not only to lies between characters, in conversation and politics, but to falsehoods within the very terrain and nature of the city itself, its establishment, nature, and ongoing existence. This approach makes for a fantastic dive into worldbuilding. It truly helps make Silastra feel like a real place that you can go and follow the trade routes and reach and explore, especially as we learn more and more about Silatra’s dark past and obscurely dark present. It also makes that aforementioned siege feel like the slowly constricting grasp around its inhabitants ... The book has a interesting, diverse, and compelling set of secondary characters ... The novel is much more than its setting and its excavation of that setting, however. You cannot succeed in this subgenre if you don’t have compelling protagonists who avoid being swallowed and consumed by the city they belong to. In this, the author mainly succeeds, although Jov comes off better than Kalina ... By the end of City of Lies, which does end a bit frustratingly without a great off-ramp, there is clear direction and room for a sequel ... Bring forth more city-state fantasy!
The attention to detail is amazing, be it the landscape or the characters. And I will be honest, I am not always a fan of debut novels, as I find that they often lack refinement. This one, however, was leaps and bounds above the norm ... this book was superbly written—intrigue and suspense reign supreme. The politics of the region and the aloofness of the city itself are world building at its finest ... I would not be surprised to find myself picking this as my favorite debut book of the year ... enjoy this first taste with the knowledge that more is to come!