Title: The Liar’s Key
Author: Mark Lawrence
Date Started: July 20, 2015 Date Finished: August 8, 2015
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
Every book has a story: If you’ve read my last few readux entries you’ll know I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk. Things not quite living up to expectations. Storytelling going awry. It was the perfect time to delve into the new book of a writer I could count on: The Liar’s Key (Second Book of The Red Queen’s War) by Mark Lawrence was just the ticket.
Petals rained down amid cheers of adoration. Astride my glorious charger at the head of Red March’s finest cavalry unit, I led the way along the Street of Victory toward the Red Queen’s palace. Beautiful women strained to escape the crowd to throw themselves at me. Men roared their approval. I waved — Bang. Bang. Bang.
In Prince of Fools, the first book of The Red Queen’s War, Prince Jalan–committed gambler, spender, and womanizer–was bound together with virtuous Viking warrior Snorri by an act of powerful magic–and perhaps destiny. They travelled from the Mediterranean-esque Red March all the way to the Bitter Ice in the far north in an attempt to break the mysterious spell. Unlikely enough companions already, Jalan and Snorri also each found themselves haunted by avatars of light and darkness seeking to pit their human hosts against each other. Though Jalan and Snorri found friendship on their long journey, they also amassed more and more enemies–like witches, necromancers, and the Dead King and his Unborn army–and exactly one key that can open any door, even the door to death.
In true Mark Lawrence fashion, The Liar’s Key keeps hurtling right along where the first book left off, with approximately ten pages of gentle introduction before Jalan is running for his life towards a small Viking boat with two very large Vikings in it. Jalan sees this as his chance to return to Red March after whiling the winter away on the ice, but Snorri is determined to find the door to death so that he may reunite with his dead children. This division in their quests is amplified by the light and dark avatars that continue to haunt them, and Jalan and Snorri begin to drift apart.
The breaking of day changes all things, Snorri. Nothing endures beyond the count of the sun. Pile a sufficient weight of mornings upon a thing and it will change. Even the rocks themselves will not outlast the morning.
Luckily Jalan finds a new Viking to not only befriend, but ogle as well, in the form of Kara, an apprentice witch sent to watch and advise on the suicidal task of finding death’s door and using Loki’s key. I’m not one to harp on authors to create universal representation in their characters, and I never minded the largely-male cast of The Broken Empire and now the duo of Jalan and Snorri (with a supporting cast of all the male Vikings, and a few women for Jalan to flirt with). I still really enjoyed the addition of Kara to this ragtag team, as a great character in her own right. She’s interesting, biting, smart, and powerful. It’s Kara who sparks a new and very earnest quest in Jalan as she helps him recover memories of the childhood he had forgotten and reveals to him a power he never knew he had.
Their eventual return to mainland Empire is not as restful or satisfying as Jalan had hoped it would be, as they are chased down by their necromancer and unborn enemies. One traumatizing and bloody experience at an eerie magical relic and a run-in with a beloved character from The Broken Empire later though, and Jalan is on the road home to Vermillion at long last.
The sequence of Jalan’s homecoming was a strangely jarring one to me. I have always been game to follow Lawrence into whatever crazy fray he has conjured–and over these five books there has been more crazy than I ever could have imagined. Yet it’s this quieter sequence that has thrown me most. It wasn’t quite a slowdown of the plot because Snorri and Co. continue on with the mission; it’s only Jalan who stops. Jalan doesn’t gather an abundance of momentum for his own personal mission, and the new characters we meet aren’t around long enough to make their own impressions. The sequence isn’t long enough to settle into, and I spent most of it quickly flipping to when Jalan would reunite with the gang. But there’s still one book in the series to go, so maybe it will have greater payoff than my mortal mind can know.
What saves us all are the deeds of fools as often as the acts of the wise.
The climax of The Liar’s Key is the Lawrence I know and love. It’s heartbreaking and violent and terrifying and darkly funny. It bookended spectacularly with the opening of the book and left just enough mysteries lingering among the questions answered. The final paragraph has left me counting down the days until the third book is released.
Reading a Mark Lawrence book to break a book slump is a bit of a cheat. There was no risk involved because of course I was going to love it. His books always leave me with a confused mixture of feelings: on the one hand, I’m so excited that there’s still more of the story for me to enjoy; on the other hand, I worry for Jalan and Snorri and what else might still await them.