City of Lies (Poison Wars #1) by Sam Hawke

city of liesMy first thought on reviewing City of Lies by Sam Hawke was 560 pages!  Really?  It didn’t feel like it – for me, right there is a big surprise.  I don’t mind a book being long, or epic – I just mind, very much so, if it feels that way whilst reading.  So, kudos straight away.  I literally had no idea this was such a chunkster *cue happy applause*.  Secondly, this is a great first in series that shows not only a lot of promise in terms of going forward but also manages to provoke that feeling of ‘epicness’ whilst in actual fact providing a story that is much more focused on the inner workings.  This isn’t a book with thousands of people battling it out on the bloody fields beyond the city walls – or at least, yes, okay, there is action going on out there but that’s not where Hawke chooses to shine the stagelights.  Instead, this is a story of mystery and intrigue where the reader follows a select few as they endeavour to uncover what’s really taking place whilst also trying to stay alive.

So, why City of Lies as a title?  Well, this novel is based in the City of Silasta, a shining beacon of virtue, a city of knowledge, learning, art and culture, literally a place that everyone can feel proud of.  Except of course if you look beneath the structure of any large city lurking beneath will be a quite different feeling and experience.  Obviously, I don’t want to give too much away here but I was fascinated by the way that so many people in this story, living their rather spoiled and privileged lives had very little notion of those residents within the city walls who kept the place ticking over or, more to the point, the way in which they live  Even more so for the outlying villages that provide the much needed labour and crops that the city relies upon – even whilst their city counterparts harbour superior views about their poor country cousins.  Anyway, that’s a relatively small point that I wanted to mention – really because I felt like this story delivers a very strong sense of place.

I loved the start to the story where we meet Jovan.  The story shares two narrative view points in Jovan and his sister Salina and their own characters and sibling rivalry, not to mention their strong affection for each other and their childhood friend, Tain, really shines through.  The introduction to Jovan was a really good one for me.  It just worked very well in the way that some stories do to pull you in immediately.  Frankly, any story that virtually starts by more or less saying ‘I was seven when my uncle first poisoned me’ pretty much secures my attention from the get go, colour me intrigued and curious to know more.  Jovan and his family are proofers to the chancellor.  Of course in a city that is ‘perfect’, where everybody is happy as can be, well, that role has to be hidden, because sure as eggs is eggs surely nobody would wish to poison their beloved Chancellor when all is so splendid and hunky dory – would they?  It’s a pretty awful and thankless task isn’t it?  Not only do you have to spend the majority of your childhood either being poisoned or trying to build up immunities and expertise in how to recognise these dangers but you then have to dive in and put yourself constantly at risk – and, in a way that nobody suspects you are doing so.  Talk about your danger money – just no.

I really liked Jovan and thought his strong friendship with Tain helped to reinforce why he felt so strongly about his role.  In fact he suffers from constant self doubt and also seems to suffer from some sort of OCD compulsions that he has to undergo in order to keep his feelings in check – I’m probably not really describing that very well in which case apologies.  On the flip side of course, the friendship between the two is so strong that Tain feels guilty over the constant risk that his friend has to suffer. To an extent Salina’s character suffered a little bit as a result of Jovan getting off to such a good start.  In fact Salina is, in a way, living in her brother’s shadow in more ways than one.  Salina was originally to be the family proofer but following an almost fatal poisoning when she was young her health never fully recovered.  The two tippy toe around the fact that Jovan supplanted Salina and there is a little bit of resentment bubbling beneath, but, the affection they both have for each other is much stronger than the rivalry.  As well as that there’s the fact that Jovan had an immediate appeal for me as a reader.  I liked his story telling voice which possibly made me a little resentful at first when I had to switch pov.  But, Salina did eventually work her magic and I found myself totally in her corner, particularly as she was so frequently underestimated.  On a number of occasions I could have happily slapped a few other characters, including Jovan, upside the head, for their casual dismissal.  So, talk about your turn arounds.

You may have noticed that I’m saying very little about the plot.  It’s difficult to do so without spoiling the story somewhat.  This is a mystery in more ways than one and so to elaborate here would be to ruin the read imo.  Fundamentally this is a murder mystery story that just so happens to fall into the fantasy arena.  Using poison and intrigue and scattering a few red herrings it pulls you into a story of a city in danger.

Basically City of Lies has heart.  It reads as a standalone novel and yet the ending has me champing at the bit to pick up No.2 and I find myself with a number of characters that I’m rooting for – which makes me all that much eager to find out what comes next.

I received a copy, through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher for which my thanks  The above is my own opinion.