Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Impossible Times

Publisher: 47North (May 1, 2019)

Length: 204 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Having only read Mark Lawrence’s fantasy before this point, I had thought The Book of the Ancestor was a departure for him, but One Word Kill was truly an entirely different beast. It was also a novel I inhaled in about two sittings. Despite it being a world apart from the kinds of books the author is generally known for, and the fact it has time traveling elements (which we all know can be tricky), this was a surprisingly easy and entertaining read.

The story takes place in the 1980s, following 15-year-old protagonist Nick Hayes and his small group of friends who get together every week for their role-playing sessions of Dungeons & Dragons. In fact, other than the love for the game, the teenagers have very little in common between them. First aside from Nick, there’s Elton, a funny guy and a healthy skeptic, who as the game master can always be counted on to bring the geeky humor and banter. Then there’s Simon, an awkward and quiet kid who can sometimes let his emotions get the better of him. Next is John, who is rich, handsome and charming, and even though he only hangs out with his “nerdy” friends in secret, deep down the cocky teenager has a heart of gold. And finally, there’s Mia, the newest member of the group and the only girl. Mia has a complicated past, but she’s cool, she’s smart, and in spite of himself, Nick finds himself completely smitten.

But at the beginning of the book, Nick receives the devastating news that he has terminal cancer, and the consequences and the events following his diagnosis bring them together in solidarity in a way that no one could have possibly imagined. For one thing, shortly after Nick finds out he is dying, he discovers that he is being followed by a stranger, who nonetheless feels familiar to him in a way he can’t explain. This mysterious man, who calls himself Demus, claims to know the future, and that in order to survive the cancer and save his friend Mia from grave danger, Nick and his friends must help him with an extremely difficult and extremely top secret mission—like, we’re talking James Bond spy-level kind of shit. And yet, although everything Demus says sounds crazy, Nick is inclined to believe him. For one thing, the man somehow knows things, things that shouldn’t be possible to know, and if there’s a chance he can beat the cancer, or any chance he can also save Mia from certain death, Nick knows that he has to try.

If you’ve ever taken a gander at Mark Lawrence’s author profile, you probably already know he’s a crazy smart guy—a literal rocket scientist—and he’s also had experience dealing with technology that requires top level government secret clearance. So, I think it’s relatively safe to say he knows his stuff. Perhaps that’s also why, despite all the wild and far out WTFery going on in this book, One World Kill still somehow managed to feel grounded and convincing. The plot and its ideas are also relatively easy to follow, which in my experience isn’t always the case when it comes to time travel stories and the reason why so many can be hit or miss for me. Being geared towards YA though, One World Kill contains all the strangeness and complexity of the time travel subgenre but still comes across very accessible and reader-friendly, a testament to Lawrence’s ability to balance his storytelling and to know the audience he’s writing for.

Due to the setting and the camaraderie between the protagonist and his group of friends, it’s also perhaps inevitable that parallels are drawn to certain books by Stephen King, or to movies and TV shows like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Stranger Things. Indeed, there’s definitely this nostalgic and almost magical aura surrounding One Word Kill, a sense that we are only limited by what we can imagine. As well, this novel doesn’t feel like any time travel story I’ve read before, and honestly, I think it’s because Lawrence never allows the tech and science-y bits to gain the foreground, focusing instead on the human aspects, i.e. the lives of Nick and his friends. As a result, this story plays out like a very personal drama, to the point where pigeonholing it into sci-fi, time travel, or into any kind of category almost feels disingenuous, cheapening the experience. This is because more than anything else, this one’s about the characters, and it makes you care about their wants and dreams.

All told, One Word Kill was very different from what I am used to from the author, but it is now up there with some of my favorites from him. Despite its short length and YA vibes, this book isn’t just all about geeky fun and secret heist action, for it is also a character-first story that packs an emotional punch, combining cheerful sweetness and poignant feeling in equal measure. If this is what we can expect from the next installment, it’s going to be awesome.

30 Comments on “Book Review: One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence”

  1. I have this one and now I’m really excited for it. I’m always on board for the 80s. I keep meaning to start The Red Sister as well but haven’t gotten around to it (story of my life). It will be cool watching this unlikely group of friends join together. Sounds fun despite the heavy terminal illness looming over their heads.


    • Yes, I’m really digging this 80s trend, I’m on board with anything to do with this era too 😀 I think you might enjoy this more than Red Sister, honestly – it’s very readable and fun 🙂


  2. Can’t wait to read this, just about every review I’ve read has been similar to yours. And the sequels are following fairly quickly!


  3. The “Stranger Things” vibe is the element that most draws me to this book, together with the fact that – for what little I know of Lawrence’s work – it does not sound like his usual bloody mayhem 😀 😀
    This is placed very high on my “wanted” list, so thank you for making it an even more pressing candidate for my TBR!


  4. This was a weird one for me. While I couldn’t QUITE connect with the characters emotionally, there was definitely a part of my brain that was appreciating all the story craft happening. I can see why some people liked it more than me!


  5. So he is crazy smart hé? Well Mogsy this one has been on my feed that whole week and I must confess that you are very convincing 😉


  6. I liked this one a lot too- totally agree! I loved how character-driven it was, Mia and Nick were great, and the time travel stuff was done well. Ready for the next one!


  7. Lovely review. I haven’t read anything by this author yet (lol why, I know), but I have similarly heard that he is great at characterization. I thought perhaps he might be one-time hit author, but it sounds like he’s able to branch out. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention! ❤


    • Me too, I’m so glad he’s branching out, first with Book of the Ancestor, which was quite different from his usual violence and grimdark, and now this, which is in an entirely different ballpark completely. I love it when an author evolves!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I had a good time with this one too, it probably doesn’t quite have the stylish flair of his fantasy series but it’s so well put together that you can’t help enjoying it and he does manage to make the fantastical seem plausible.
    Lynn 😀


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  10. Yeah this is a completely different beast and very entertaining! And yeah this was so smart and yet easy to follow- I have no idea how Lawrence did that, but it was awesome!! This was definitely one of my favourites from Lawrence too. Brilliant review! Glad you liked it too!


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