Book Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

A review copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Liar's KeyThe Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 2 of The Red Queen’s War

Publisher: Ace (June 2, 2015)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s official; The Liar’s Key is probably my favorite work by Mark Lawrence to date, surpassing even my love for the entire Broken Empire trilogy. It’s also stronger than its predecessor Prince of Fools, which I rated highly as well, but I was never able to shake the feeling that the first book of Prince Jalan’s adventures was still missing a little something – it didn’t read as fluidly as it could have, perhaps. However, The Liar’s Key charges out the gate at full speed and never once does it falter. Chalk it up to the story finding its stride in the second book, but I found this one went a lot more smoothly.

The story picks up again in the port town of Trond, where Jalan and the two Vikings Snorri and Tuttugu have spent the winter after their harrowing journey to the Black Fort. But as the ice retreats, Snorri grows restless to be on the move again, driven by his personal mission to bring his slain wife and children back to the world of the living. He holds Loki’s Key, a magical key said to have the power to open any lock – even the one on death’s door.

But such a powerful item attracts its fair share of attention. Others seek Loki’s Key, including the Dead King, agent of the Lady Blue who has sent her assassins, necromancers and armies of undead to dog Jalan and his companions every step of the way in her war against the Red Queen, Jalan’s indomitable grandmother. In this field full of power players, Jalan and Snorri suspect that the two of them are merely lowly pawns on a game board, yet they do what they must, even if it means heading knowingly into danger.

Consequently, I watched as the story barreled forth with both the inevitability and heart-stopping rush of a runaway tank. I could not peel my eyes away. As our adventurers travel south towards their goal, they pick up two more companions – a witch named Kara and an orphan boy named Hennan – to complete their party and join the quest. Their motivations range from ambition to loyalty, with the exception of Jalan, who was unwillingly bound to Snorri’s fate since the very beginning (even as he keeps telling himself he’s only along for the ride to escape massive gambling debts and the legions of angry brothers, fathers, and husbands of the women he’s bedded back home).

Many reviewers have contrasted Jalan to Jorg Ancrath, the protagonist of Mark Lawrence’s Broken Empire trilogy, stating that the two of them are completely different. That’s because they really are, but in this book, I began to see some similarities, not least of all is that fact they are actually both quite disgusting and despicable human beings, just in different ways. That didn’t stop me from enjoying Jalan’s character though, embracing him in a way that I never managed with Jorg. Prince of Fools was an aptly named first novel because Jal is a fool indeed, albeit a very charming, lovable one. He’s the best kind of protagonist; for all his unsportsmanlike behaviors, Jalan’s internal dialogue provides an endless amount of entertainment. This series maintains its much lighter, more humorous tone because of it.

At first, I was convinced that Jal wasn’t going to change, that he would remain the kind of rakish, dandy self-serving cad who would throw a woman into the path of an angry horde or use a child as a human shield (both of which he considered doing in the course of this story. Seriously, I never want to find myself in a position where I’d have to depend on someone like him to have my back). But Lawrence is a master of characterization. We do get to see growth in Jalan, a gradual and thoughtful journey that sees him maturing and growing more courageous (well, to a point, of course – this is Jal we’re talking about). We witness a change in Snorri at the same time as well, though he’s lost a bit of his fire in his case, burdened by what happened to his family and the knowledge of what he must do. I found a great irony in this, since the Viking is the light-sworn one where Jalan is the dark, and yet we see the prince become enlightened while the Viking retreats into his gloom. Regardless of how I took to these changes, I was amazed to see how incredibly well these two characters evolved, and yet they still continue to play off each other very well. Bringing Tuttugu, Kara and Hennan into the fold did nothing to throw off the momentum, and instead added a boatload of new and exciting dynamics.

The Liar’s Key is the kind of sequel every reader dreams about. The story is riveting and superbly well-constructed, just one reason why Mark Lawrence’s writing is such a force to be reckoned with. A pure blend of dark magic and adventure, this book launches Jalan’s saga to a whole new level. It unlocks a whole slew of secrets from his past, raising the stakes for everyone involved. Perhaps my only quibble is the ending and how fast we blew through it, but that’s not even really a true quibble because even now I suspect I only felt this way because I was enjoying myself so much I didn’t want it to be over. I have to say I felt that cruel cliffhanger like a punch in the gut, but now I simply cannot wait until the third book comes out.


More of The Red Queen’s War on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Prince of Fools (Book 1)

21 Comments on “Book Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence”

  1. Sorry I cannot read your review at the moment. I do not want to spoil anything for myself. I am about 100 pages in and I am hooked. Glad to see you rated it so high! I can’t wait to finish the book and then read your review!


  2. It’s great to have such an amazing second book, I know it’s not always the case. I don’t remember your review about book 1 but maybe one day even if I’m a little anxious it’s a bit too fantasy for me.


    • The first book was pretty brilliant too, but I think I liked this one even more. Book 1 Prince of Fools got 4.5 stars from me iirc.


  3. Hmmm. I never got past the first book 1 in the first series…first few pages, I can’t read about that which happened.

    But this series, everyone aholes?


    • If you couldn’t stand the first series (Broken Empire) because everyone in it were a-holes, then you’ll probably like this one a lot more. Jorg was a disgusting little human being, but Prince Jalan is more like a charming, rakish coward 🙂


        • I was never a fan of Jorg either, but the writing was good enough that I made it through the series. Jalan has his issues, but they don’t really make him unlikable. I’m enjoying this series a lot more than I did the first one.


          • It’s true, Jalan’s a bit of an ass, but he’s a perfectly lovable ass! I shouldn’t be charmed by him, but I am 🙂


  4. Okay, since my copy is still in the mail (REALLY hoping it arrives today), I’m going to stop at “It’s official; The Liar’s Key is probably my favorite work by Mark Lawrence to date” and trust that we’ll be in eventual agreement. 🙂


  5. The crowded, chaotic mess that’s my reading queue never allowed me to go beyond “Prince of Thorns”, even though I’m beyond curious to know how the story of Jorg progresses (and if I wait a bit more, I will need to re-read that first book…). So learning that Mark Lawrence has penned another great trilogy increases my need to go on with the first series and launch into this one, that promises to be even better.
    Thanks for sharing!


    • Yes, and thus far I’m already liking Prince Jalan’s tale way more than Jorg’s. It’s a little brighter with a bit more lightness and humor, and I love Jal’s narration – he’s a great character, I hope you’ll get to meet him one day 🙂


  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: New Books & Books I’ve Read | The BiblioSanctum

  7. I’d love to read a Mark Lawrence book at some point, although starting a new series is so tough with a pile of review books waiting for me. BUT I always take notice when you rate a book 5 stars, because you don’t do that very often.:-D


    • I know what you mean, I’m having trouble fitting books in for backlist burndown so I understand the ever growing review pile that demands attention 😉


  8. Great review and I’m in complete agreement. I think that this series is just getting better and I don’t know how ML does it really. When I was reading it I was thinking at the time that it was just such a smooth read – or very polished – I can’t really put my finger on it or explain myself!
    Lynn 😀


    • Yes, it’s that fluidity I was hoping to convey. I loved Prince of Fools but it was a “rougher” read than this one was. The Liar’s Key somehow had that perfect flow.


  9. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: New Books, Top Reads, What I’ve Been Reading… | The BiblioSanctum

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