Book Review: The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 1 of The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings
Publisher: Saga Press (June 23, 2020)
Length: 608 pages
It’s probably no surprise that The Kingdom of Liars was one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2020, with a premise that promises magic, intrigue, and adventure. Although the novel does falter slightly at times, as debuts often do, I’m pleased to report that it exceeded my expectations and I found it to be an excellent and compelling read.
The protagonist of the story is Michael Kingman, son of the most notorious traitor the Hollows has ever seen. But while David Kingman was put to death for murdering the child prince nearly a decade ago, his wife and children are still suffering for his sins, scorned and mistrusted by their noble peers. Still, how far does the apple really fall from the tree? As the novel begins, Michael is being held prisoner, awaiting his trial and execution. His purported crime? For killing the king.
The story then flashes back to recent events as Michael begins to recount the harrowing journey which led to his arrest and current situation. It all started on the eve of the Endless Waltz, a long-standing tradition among Hollow nobility to present themselves and prove their worth. But for Michael, the event becomes an opportunity to rejoin high society and restore his family name. After all, the last ten years have been difficult the Kingmans. Michael himself barely survives off the money he makes as a petty con artist, while his sister Gwen works at the asylum, caring for their mind-addled mother. So when Michael is offered a well-paying job to be a chaperone for a heavy drinking, free-wheeling high noble named Charles Domet, he is forced to accept.
The older nobleman, however, is nothing like Michael expected. A talented Fabricator and adept at using magic, Domet agrees to teach Michael to develop his own fledgling skills while also sharing a secret piece of information our protagonist had long hoped for but never dared to believe—that his father, David Kingman, had been innocent and framed for his crime.
Over the years, I’ve read a great number of books involving unreliable narrators, but this one might be one of the most intriguing ways of handling the concept that I’ve ever seen. For one thing, have you ever thought about why this novel is called The Kingdom of Liars? Well, let’s put things this way—can you really trust someone to speak the truth, if they don’t remember it? Because that’s the crux behind the whole system of magic in the world of the Hollow. To use it costs memories, which means all experienced Fabricators have a way to help them remember the important details of their lives. However, our main character Michael Kingman’s abilities are just emerging, and with no telling when or how often he’s used his abilities, all we know is there are big gaps in his memories where he can’t recall certain details or remember someone who insists they’ve met before.
Not gonna lie, at times this made Michael and incredible frustrating protagonist. He bungles his way through his life, doing certain things while knowing full well he lacks the pertinent information to make good decisions. He’s also impulsive and easily manipulated, which made it difficult to sympathize with him when he inevitable does or says something stupid to get himself in trouble. That said, there’s a significant portion of this that is clearly done by design, and once we moved into the later parts of the story, that was when I gained a better understanding and appreciation for what author Nick Martell was trying to achieve with his character development.
The technical aspects of the novel were also impressive, if a bit raw. In many ways, The Kingdom of Liars reminded me very much of the early works by Brandon Sanderson, such as Elantris or Mistborn—just a tad unpolished and slightly rough around the edges, but the story and the concepts themselves are solid. Take the world-building, for example. Several major details shine through, most notably the idea of a crumbling moon whose pieces sometimes fall to earth and wreak havoc on the Hollow, but the larger picture still needs fleshing out, such as of how the society works or more clarification on the Fabrication system. There are also minor issues with the writing such as an overreliance on epic fantasy tropes, with the obvious one being the protagonist sharing his life story in flashback. And while Martell is cognizant enough of showing not telling, he often falls back on familiar clichés to do so, like the old hand-on-the-back-of-the-head/neck action to convey embarrassment or discomfort (a very anime thing to do, which is why I took notice of the several times this cropped up in the text).
But did any of these issues seriously affect my enjoyment or overall experience? Heck no. Most of the ones I pointed out aren’t so much complaints but rather observations or minor hiccups that need to be ironed out, and I have no doubt that they will with some time and experience. Nick Martell is poised to become a promising and inspiring powerhouse in the fantasy genre, and I look forward to reading more of his work for years to come.