Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Mark Lawrence's THE LIAR'S KEY

The first book in this second/concurrent Broken Empire series, Prince of Fools, confounded my expectations a bit, presenting us in Prince Jal with a hero way more likeable than the sort-of-psychopath Jorg Ancrath of the original series and showing us a completely different part of these princes' shared post-apocalyptic fantasy universe -- a latter day Scandanavia teeming with nu-Vikings and necromancers and other monstrous delights, oh my. So it was quite a delightful read.

So, I'm happy to say, is this second volume. The Liar's Key is named for an artifact that Jal's bound-by-magic traveling companion and sort-of friend, Snorri, wrested from enemies at the end of the Prince of Fools. The titular key, ostensibly created by Loki, yes, that Loki, the god of mischief/evil/etc, can open any door, anywhere, even the doorway to the land of the dead. Where Snorri very much wants to visit, since he wants to pull an Orpheus and get back his dead wife -- and children, including an unborn son that died when his wife was killed. To mix mythologies a bit, as one does.

As we might imagine (shades of that fantastic miniseries The Lost Room), lots of entities want that key, including the Big Baddie from the original trilogy, the Dead King (and no, it's not Marius Helles, though wouldn't that be fun?). So now Jal and Snorri and the last surviving member of Snorri's Viking clan, the marvelously un-stereotypical Tuttugu, are on the run even as they follow a trail of clues that purport to lead them to death's door.

But... this is the middle volume of a trilogy, and so Lawrence is still more interested in deepening, rather than explaining/solving his mysteries. And mysteries do abound, as Jal and company leave Scandinavia and head south and east to Jal's homeland and beyond, with everybody chasing them, Hallelujah Trail-like, and setting traps for them.

In the process, we learn more about Hal as he learns more about himself -- literally -- through the magical efforts of one of his new traveling companions, Kara.* Anytime he tastes his own blood (which is fairly often, what with all the fighting he and his little crew get up to), he either flashes back to forgotten-but-shocking events from his own childhood (he witnessed his mother's murder when he was seven! And he knows the guy who killed her! It's very fishy that he forgot this!), or from his grandmother's, the Red Queen's, and that of her uncanny siblings, Garyus and the Silent Sister. The Silent Sister being the witch who's spell bound Jal to Snorri in the first place...

So, like Jorg before him, Jal is even more complicated than he seemed. Like Jorg before him, Jal's mind has been tampered with. Another unreliable narrator, another red herring of a story. Because it looks like all of what we've been watching in both Broken Empire series has really been a distraction. Don't look at the mages in the corners. Look at the princes, Psycho and Chickenshit. Aren't they fascinating? Pay no attention to the creepy half-blind woman behind the curtain...

And hurry up with the next volume please, Mr. Lawrence!

*The other is a fierce little red-haired Viking orphan boy, Hennan, who serves as this novel's hook into this hero's conscience. Mark Lawrence always thinks of the children.

1 comment:

  1. "Look at the princes, Psycho and Chickenshit. Aren't they fascinating? Pay no attention to the creepy half-blind woman behind the curtain" - fantastic! LOL. Nice sleight of hand on part of the author? You gradually realize the real psychological action is right in front of you with the action heroes.


Sorry about the CAPTCHA, guys, but without it I was getting 4-5 comment spams an hour.