“We’re all selfish monsters—the only difference is some of us are more honest about it than others.“
Synopsis: Michael Kingman is heir to a legacy of betrayal. After his father’s appartent murder of the King’s son, his once-powerful family are forced to live in disgrace and servitude. Ten years later, Michael is scraping by in the streets, moving from one con to the next like a common grifter. When an opportunity presents itself for him to rejoin the upper class and to clear his family’s reputation, Michael seizes it… but power comes at a cost. Will Michael reclaim his lost legacy, or will he lose his very identity trying?
I’ll start by thanking Gallery/Saga press for the opportunity to review an early copy of this novel! It’s always a pleasure to have such opportunities, both to enjoy a good read and to offer some promotion to authors.
The Kingdom of Liars begins in medias res, with the “trial” of Michael Kingman, and does not really take the time to slow down. I am inclined to enjoy this pace, as it keeps one reading steadily and makes for an enjoyable reading experience. As I’ll discuss below, however, this does at time let the reader down.
Let’s start with some good points! I found the premise of the story quite interesting. I love a good redemption arc, and the protagonist’s desire to vindicate his family is admirable and believable. The fact that Michael (our first-person narrator/protagonist) does not readily believe that his father may have been innocent of his crimes is refreshing, and helps sell the unraveling of the mystery presented; our hero is a reluctant one, and this helps balance the 1st person narrative with some introspection. I wasn’t entirely enamored of the supporting cast, but Michael’s friend Kai was a standout, as was his sister Gwen. These characters felt fleshed-out, and easier to picture; they were also a pleasure to read. My only criticism of the character development is that everyone felt, to some extent, over-impulsive; there are a lot of snap decisions made in this novel which I found jarring! Otherwise, I enjoyed the different personalities Michael is forced to contend with.
The complex setting of this novel deals with numerous factions, both within and outside of the monarchical political structure, and also features a unique magic system which trades memories as currency. Let’s start with the magic: users of magic are called “Fabricators”, and it is accepted that everyone has a single specialization. Magical power is something inherited, and those with the skills are generally more valued in society. There are fire fabricators, steel fabricators, light fabricators, dark fabricators… the system appears to be based on classical Elements. The variety of this is staggering, and several characters employ these powers with spectacular results. I am not at all surprised that Brandon Sanderson called this “An excellent fantasy debut”, as the complex magic system seems like something he’d sink his teeth into. Now, magic in this world comes at a cost: use of a fabricator’s powers can result in memory loss, and overuse of one’s powers will result in one becoming a “forgotten” (essentially, an amnesiac). That about covers magic! For political factions, we have the corrupt monarchy/nobility (traditionally supported by the now-disgraced Kingman family), the mercenaries (so powerful that they are free to act with impunity), and the rebels. The scale of this story’s components is so immense that at times the precious few details blaze by… and this is where I get a bit grumpy.
While I am all for a rich and layered setting, I sometimes feel that a certain amount of exposition is not just beneficial, but mandatory as well. What I mean by this is that there can only be a certain amount of glossing over details before one starts to lose interest. There are numerous examples of Fabricators at work in the text, as well as attempts to explain what they do, as though it is a clearly explained art/magic system… but this is then left ambiguous. Where does magic come from? How does it work exactly? Is memory loss guaranteed, or an effect of overuse? All of these things and more are glossed over. Similarly, mercenaries are made out as feared, near-mystical figures of immense power, capable of toppling an entire government when angered. If that is so, then why are they mercenaries at all? Why work for others? The setting is rich, and the world is large, but it feels as though there is insufficient plumbing of the depths. I suspect that this will take place more in the sequel, but it can be a hard sell for some.
I don’t mean to imply that the novel was not an enjoyable read: it absolutely was. I just happen to be a very attentive reader, and I crave lore. If you dangle all those pieces of bait in front of me, there had better be a payoff! To me, the payoff in The Kingdom of Liars ended up being the flow of the narrative and the fast-paced journey it takes its reader as secrets of Michael’s past are slowly and meticulously unraveled. This was an enjoyable and creative story, and my criticisms only reinforce this statement: I am absolutely invested in where this is going, and I want to know more about everything. The Kingdom of Liars releases May 5, 2020, so mark it in your calendar and make sure to give this one a try.