Mark Lawrence starts The Liar’s Key, the second book in the Red Queen’s War series, in a manner that I’ve rarely seen and greatly appreciate: with a numbered list of the major plot points from the first book. And he tells you point blank that it’s so he doesn’t have to waste all of our time weaving in reminders, and instead can get straight to the action. And that he does!
The prologue, deviating from the usual first-person perspective, is a brief and rollicking bit of prose full of clever turns of phrase and beautifully poetic details. While sumptuous descriptions are sprinkled throughout the book, these few pages are a densely-packed delight. “The short man laughs, a many-angled sound as likely to kill birds in flight as to bring blossom to the bough.” That’s just a taste. A taste. I dare you not to get hooked.
Once the story starts in earnest, we’re directly immersed once again in the perspective of Prince Jalan Kendeth, our half-drunk anti-hero, doing a poor job of dodging the blows from the women he’s scorned, and literally running from the violent or matrimonial consequences. (Equally dire options to our handsome prince.) And just like that, we’re on the road again! (Or the water, as the case may be.)
As usual, the pacing is flawless. Though Liar’s Key is interspersed with flashbacks, the momentum remains steady. Lawrence has a way of making a flash-back feel like in-the-moment action while still filling in the reader on a wealth of information. And- I won’t spoil you as to precisely how- but simultaneously, you’re constantly on edge during the flashbacks, anxious for the damage report when we return to the present with our hero.
Much like Prince of Fools, this story is about trying to go home. But while Prince was about Snorri trying to get back to his family in the north, Liar’s Key is about Jalan trying to get back to his life in the south. And as is true with any story, you can never go home. Either it has changed or you have. Either way, the experience never fits the expectation.
While the plot of Liar’s Key is rather straightforward, there is a perfect blend of strangeness and familiarity. Once again, Jalan and Snorri are on a quest and the mission is clear. We know where they’re headed, and we’re pretty sure they’re going to end up there. I mean, nothing living or undead can stop the will of Snorri ver Snagason. But what we learn along the way, as well as the outcome of meeting the big bad, can’t be predicted. And I audibly gasped at the very last sentence.
My only problem with Liar’s Key is about 3/4 of the way in, I remembered that this is the second book of a trilogy, thus some questions would go unanswered, and I’d be vexed by an intriguing cliffhanger. I began to drag my heels about finishing the book because I didn’t want it to end. But I did finish it. And as I’ve come to expect from Mark Lawrence books, I’m left slavering for more.
The Liar’s Key is available today (June 2nd). If you buy it on Amazon, please do consider using Amazon Smile while doing so and choosing Fandom Charities (the organization that keeps our lights on) as your charity. Or give to some other charity if you like.
And if you’ve read Liar’s Key and want to discuss it, or you haven’t read it and just want to speculate, you can do so below in the comments!