The Kingdom of Liars
I generally ignore blurbs, but every now and then, if it’s from an author I like, one catches my attention. Sometimes, that’s a mistake. I picked up Nick Martell’s The Kingdom of Liars mostly for its interesting premise that magic costs memory, but partly because Brandon Sanderson’s blurb said it was “excellent”. You never know what goes into the decision to blurb a book, but this time I can say, at the least, that I disagree strongly with Sanderson’s characterization. The Kingdom of Liars is interesting, but it’s a very long way from excellent.
Mostly, the book would have benefited from several more rounds of developmental editing. There’s a host of clever ideas in here, but they’re all mixed together in a murky mess, and none of them is properly developed. It’s the kind of manuscript an astute agent would see and say, “This has promise. Let’s work on it.” It’s not at a stage where it should have been published to a mass audience. For example, we’re halfway through the book before we learn what a ‘tweeker’ is – a type introduced very early on. I can’t understand how this came from a major publisher.
I got an early foreboding from errors in the grammar of the prologue. I was reading an advance reader copy, so some typos are to be expected, but this is grammar, not spelling, and very early in the book. As I went on, the foreboding grew. The prose was often clumsy, and decidedly amateur in places. The errors continued. In addition, the balance of the book was off – too much was withheld from the reader, with the effect of making the action unclear. Notably, the story takes place entirely within one city, yet the geography of the place is very unclear, and there’s no helpful map. Characters move from place to place as it’s convenient for the story, and I never had any sense of the look of the place beyond one ruined keep (there seem to be several in the city) and one banquet hall. Not only is the travel random, much of the plot is as well – this is part of the balance and development problem mentioned above. Things happened because they needed to to move the plot forward, not because it made much sense. I couldn’t get the economy or society to make sense either.
I found it hard to empathize with the narrator. While posited as a clever, likable, right-thinking underdog, he appears to have no qualms about torture, and not many about betrayal. He’s constantly making promises to other characters, but it’s never clear why he should be the one to take on this burden. Instead, the book simply leans heavily on us knowing the trope of heroic narrator as protector. He learns that part of his memory is missing – set up as a key plot point, but then abandoned with an ‘oh well’ attitude. He’s occasionally very intelligent, though – from knowing flintlock pistols, he immediately grasps the idea of a revolver with cartridges.
The editing overall is just sloppy – both on a developmental and line level. There’s evidently not been much effort to focus the book or to have the plot points make sense. Random strangers are suddenly crucial to the plot. Established central characters fade away. I wish I could say these are intended to surprise us by defying expectations and standard tropes, but I’m pretty sure they’re just poor editing. The ‘villain tells all’ ending just confirms it all.
It’s an odd book to review – very good ideas (too many jammed into one book) – but very little editing. I think Mr. Martell has a promising future. On the other hand, this looks to be the first book in a series, and I definitely won’t be buying the rest. Maybe if he moves to another publisher, I could be interested again.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.