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The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence
Book Name: The Liar’s Key
Author: Mark Lawrence
Publisher(s): Ace (US) Harper Voyager (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Audiobook / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: June 2, 2015 (US) June 18, 2015 (UK)

You know when you spend a silly amount of time setting the mood for someone that is special to you. You experiment with the lighting to make sure it is just perfect, maybe light a candle so the room fills with the luscious scents of vanilla and coconut and then you put some music on and pour a drink and settle into your favourite chair. Sound familiar?

I did all that before sitting down to read The Liar’s Key. I know it’s a bit bonkers but that’s what you do when you’ve been anticipating something special for a long time and I wanted to do the equivalent of taking this book out for a nice meal so it got its due appreciation.

So I’m in my chair and I’ve got a mylar backing on the cover so my filthy human hands wont desecrate the wondrous pages before me and I open up my book.

Firstly, Mark has taken the wonderful, if unusual, step of including a few bullet points at the start to bring us up to speed. All the important bits and pieces are covered so that those that have read 20+ fantasy books involving men on a mission since Prince of Fools came out needn’t worry about mixing up any facts. High five.

How I missed Jalan and Snorri. There was an immediate sense of comfort stepping back into Jalan’s hilarious, self-deprecating, internal monologue. He rarely takes things too seriously or too personally, even when caught in a four-way love mess, and when he is inevitably beaned with a stool, he still traipses around with an ‘I probably should have seen that coming’ attitude. This light hearted approach is so endearing and also allows him to get away with saying and doing some incredibly dodgy stuff because the reader knows he approaches both sides of the coin in the same manner and prides himself on his ability to see the grey in all situations.

“I’m not one for murder. But if a whole bunch of my cousins fell off a cliff I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.”

This is not say he is this casual with the prospect of death all the time, especially his own. He flirts with unknown feelings of concern for someone weaker than himself then prides himself on his ability to outrun that person in a dangerous situation. You never know what you’re going to get with Jalan but I feel like I know what we’ll get in the end.

“The boy started to throw stones out into the water, as boys do…A few moments later I picked up a loose stone and lobbed it over Hannan’s head, out across the lake. The question was never if I would throw a stone, just when.”

Jalan is just a boy and sees himself as such, even when it becomes clear that he may have incredible potential whether earned or ordained. Yes he sees himself as a Prince too and believes he is entitled to almost anything he wants but he has no grand designs on taking over the world and would be quite happy with a big pile of money and women and drink to spend it on. One might say that having fairly base desires allows him to see the lighter side of life and it’s something that Snorri, having experienced so much of the darker side, needs; to keep him human.

“The breaking of day changes all things, Snorri. Nothing endures beyond the count of the sun. Pile a sufficient weight of mornings upon a thing and it will change. Even the rocks themselves will not outlast the morning.”

Mark has also given Jalan a natural affinity with horses. It’s not a necessary gift but one that bestows upon him something special. Horses are the most noble of animals and if, as a race, they seem to trust Jalan, and he them, it says an extraordinary amount about his inner character, something perhaps a beast can sense better than most men can see.

The magical link the binds Jalan and Snorri has weakened somewhat with the passing of time but not enough to allow them to completely separate and as the Viking heads out on his quest to find Death’s door and free his family from its cold embrace, Jalan is compelled to follow. Jalan is also now dealing with the machinations of Aslaug as the dark side of the force looks to corrupt him, his trust with Snorri and the objectives of their mission.

“Don’t trust the light Prince Jalan. The stars are pretty but the space between them is infinite and black with promise.”

Jalan is so vivid and completely realised I often found myself wondering how he would fair in other books and series. Whilst he’d be expelled and wind up a career money lender in the world of Rothfuss, I don’t think he could last long in the world of Abercrombie, some named man would chop his head off after about 20 seconds before he had time to go beserker. He could easily exist in the Game of Thrones and would be an interesting alternative to pretty much every other blonde in the series. The thought of Jalan, Tyrion and Bronn going on a quest of some sort would be an R rated example I think we’d all love to see, particularly because it seems they get all the best lines.

“Every fortune teller I ever met was a faker. First thing you should do to a soothsayer is poke them in the eye and say, ‘didn’t see that coming did you?”

Snorri is a bit like a slow moving freight train. There is no huge character development because Snorri has done all that. He knows who and what he is and like a force of nature moves through the world in a different way than most men. We are also introduced to Kara, witch in training and Hennen, future decent human being, who join the group on the quest to find Hell’s door. They are fun and interesting and provide Jalan with some different things to bounce off which is handy considering the brick wall of focus that Snorri is.

In terms of dialogue and exposition Lawrence has a masterful turn of phrase turning the mundane into the majestic with every paragraph littered with quotable tidbits.

“I couldn’t find it in myself to be sorry for the plight of the persecuted troll. Maybe if they were more fluffy.”

The hardest part about reading this book is that you will feel compelled to spend much of your time rereading passages simply to let the words wash over you again and again. You will laugh constantly at Jalan’s internal musings, cheekiness and irrepressible attempts at charm just as often as you will nod quietly in agreement upon hearing Snorri’s wisdom or find yourself smile softly at yet another of Tuttugu’s display of friendship and loyalty.

Flush with rich and memorable characters it is fantastic to finally see some of the guts of The Red Queen as being one of them. It’s her war after all and I don’t remember much of her in The Prince of Fools at all so seeing some of her origins and how she forged her reputation really adds a great deal of context. We also get more of Lady Blue, Jalan’s family and see a great deal of the Broken Empire itself. Perhaps it’s the difference in overall tone but I feel I absorb and take in more of the world seeing it through Jalan’s eyes as opposed to Jorg’s. It’s not quite as dark and heavy and where it approaches those limits we are invariably treated to Lawrence’s wry and wicked sharp sense of humour to keep the shadows at bay, a little more so than in the Thorns series.

Lawrence has done it again, providing his fans with a dark and inescapably fun ride. Prepare to lurch from laugh out loud hilarity to gut wrenching sadness, from casual disregard for fellow human beings to witnessing sacrifices that will break your heart as Mark gives us a perfect second book that, just like Jalan, is far more faceted that most. I’m already looking forward to starting it again.


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