Series: The Red Queen's War #2
Published by Harper Voyager on June 2nd 2015
Our reviews of this author: The Wheel of Osheim, Red Sister, Grey Sister
The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence is the second instalment in the Red Queen’s War trilogy that once again follows in the footsteps of two of fantasy’s most unlikely companions in Prince Jalan Kendeth and Snorri ver Snagason. I awaited this book with eager anticipation and can say from the outset that it lived up to my expectations and then some.
The story begins as Snorri and Jal take a somewhat less than cheerful departure from the Northern town in which they’ve been Winter bound. Whilst Jal dreams of returning to his sun soaked home and jumping back into his former hedonistic lifestyle Snorri has other ideas and ultimately, the two being connected by strange magic, and Snorri having a mission of sorts, it looks like Jal’s desires will meet with temporary suspension. Joined by the one remaining member of Snorri’s clan, Tuttugu, the three set sail on a dark quest. Snorri has designs to use the magical key that he now owns to unlock the Gates to the Underworld and recover his family. This key is very powerful, it can open any doors, it was forged by a trickster however and it is ultimately sought by others. Snorri’s road is certainly not going to be an easy one to travel – along the way there will be magic, necromancy, trolls and huge wolves, plus running away, lots of running away.
This series has an old school feel to it in that we have a group of people on a journey encountering hardship and difficulties along the way and sprinkled with laughs and a few lighter moments. Once again we traverse, by boat and on foot, the strange landscape of the Broken Empire stopping in at villages and climbing mountains – all the while being hounded by armies and beasts. Snorri, Jal and Tuttugu barely keep one step ahead as they undertake the first leg of their journey and try to discover where the door to the Kingdom of the Underworld is located.
Being the second in series we’re already familiar with the world and the characters that inhabit it and similar to the first instalment Liar’s Key involves a good deal of travelling – an aspect that I thoroughly enjoy in both books. We set off in search of a ‘wise woman’ or Volva and in doing so pick up a new character – Kara. Apprenticed to a Volva herself Kara is an interesting combination of strange magical ability and not quite trustworthy intentions. She’s an interesting character to read about – she doesn’t succumb to Jal’s charms and neither does she enjoy the visitations that Jal and Snorri receive from Aslaug and Baraquel. She’s a cunning one and one that bears watching as she may have her own personal agenda in joining this mission but it was certainly refreshing to have her along as she broke up the dynamic somewhat and livened up the interactions between the group. We are also joined by a young boy whose father dies when becoming embroiled with the army following in Snorri and Jal’s wake.
In terms of Jal and Snorri. Well, Jal is still his own worst critic, part of what he says of course is true – womaniser, liar and coward and yet at the same time in spite of that he frequently seems to come to the rescue – even if sometimes it seems to be in the most outlandish way possible. He also brings a much needed injection of humour into some of the darker situations with his wriggling and cowardly behaviour. You can’t help liking him to be honest and more to the point it’s interesting to see what lengths he will go to in order to try and get out of a tricky spot. Snorri – I felt was different in this novel. It may be simply because he’s under a curse of sorts and is incredibly driven or that he doesn’t have quite as much page time in this instalment (not to mention he has lost his family and his driven to try and recover them) but for me he lost a little of what made him so enjoyable in Prince of Fools and paled a little in comparison to Jal. He’s still a great character but maybe not as imposing this time around. It felt as though he was becoming a little darker somehow and losing some of his patience. Not to mention I couldn’t help but question the logic of what he’s actually trying to achieve. I still think he’s a great character – I don’t think you can help doing so really, maybe just a little sadder and more frustrated with his quest.
What I really love about this book, and for that matter the last, is the quality of the writing and the overall vision of the story arc. I’m not going to deny that this is quite a hefty book to read and not a book that you’re going to race through. However, there’s never a dull moment and the quality of the writing simply deserves to be savoured. There’s a lot to take in, there’s a lot that happens and there are a number of flashbacks that give us a deeper look into Jal’s childhood and the early beginnings of the Red Queen and the Silent Sister which I also particularly enjoyed as it adds extra depth.
This is an excellent second book in series. Lawrence takes what we already know and with his own inimitable style continues to layer extra goodness on top. The characters adapt and develop as the tale progresses. The worldbuilding is thoughtful and continuous. We revisit the Broken Empire yet still manage to maintain a standalone series written in a very different style to the first series by this author.
I highly recommend this series. It has an ingenious and original plot, is populated by characters that you can feel for and get behind and is cleverly constructed. The only problem now is the wait for the final piece of the puzzle in the Red Queen’s War which promises to be dark indeed.