With The Broken Empire, Mark Lawrence instantly established himself as one of the most prominent grimdark authors out there. So when I heard that his next trilogy would be "lighter" and feature a more endearing main character than Jorg Ancrath, I was concerned that this new series wouldn't be as interesting and satisfying as its predecessor. Needless to say, I was relieved when Prince of Fools turned out to be Lawrence's most accessible and fun-filled novel to date.
My only complaint was that the first installment in The Red Queen's War wasn't as as complex and multilayered as The Broken Empire. Hence, I was looking for the author to up his game and raise the bar in the second volume, and boy did Lawrence take the ball and ran with it. The Liar's Key is Mark Lawrence's most solid effort thus far!
Here's the blurb:
After harrowing adventure and near-death, Prince Jalan Kendeth and the Viking Snorri ver Snagason find themselves in possession of Loki’s Key, an artefact capable of opening any door, and sought by the most dangerous beings in the Broken Empire—including The Dead King. Jal wants only to return home to his wine, women, and song, but Snorri has his own purpose for the key: to find the very door into death, throw it wide, and bring his family back into the land of the living. And as Snorri prepares for his quest to find death’s door, Jal’s grandmother, the Red Queen continues to manipulate kings and pawns towards an endgame of her own design…
Worldbuilding didn't play much of a role in Prince of Fools. Probably due to the fac that a lot of groundwork had already been laid out in the original series, the author didn't let the setting intrude on the storytelling. And though acting thus helps with characterization and in setting a fluid pace, I felt as though the first volume didn't resound with as much depth as the previous trilogy. But The Liar's Key is Lawrence's longest work to date, so I was hoping that he would flesh out most of the plotlines and the back story, and by doing so demonstrate that this second series shows as much depth as Jorg's tale. Once again, Jalan and Snorri embark on a long and perilous journey, one that will bring them close to the dangerous Wheel of Osheim. There are several flashback scenes that elaborate on the Red Queen's past and the death of Jalan's mother, and it's in those particular sequences that Lawrence truly shines. Not only does it provide more depth for the entire series, it confirms that the overall story arc is as intricately plotted and multilayered as the one which made The Broken Empire such a memorable tale. The author expands on the legacy of the Builders and we are introduced to some of their artifacts such as fones, devices that allowed their bearers to talk to the gods. While Prince of Fools turned out to be an introduction meant to establish the characters and the various plotlines, The Liar's Key elevates this series to new heights and sets the stage for what should be an unforgettable finale in The Wheel of Osheim.
Prince Jalan Kendeth, a heavy-drinking coward, gambler, and womanizer, was a world away from Jorg. Being such a flawed characters made Jalan easy to root for. Not the sharpest tool in the shed and with a knack to turn most bad situations into even worse ones, following his misadventures was a veritable joy! Tempered by the events chronicled in Prince of Fools and their aftermath, Jalan is shocked to discover that he is developing somewhat of a conscience from time to time. Which will land him in trouble time and again. Devastated by the death of everyone he holds dear, Snorri's disposition remains gloomy and melancholy throughout the book. After all, he is now on a quest to open Death's door to be reunited with his family, even if his own life is forfeit. The back-and-forth between the giant Norse warrior and Jal may not be as fun as in the first installment, but Jalan's first-person narrative continues to be as entertaining as ever. A number of interesting characters make up the supporting cast, chief among them Kara, Tuttugu, and Hennan, who accompany them on their journey. And even though we only see her in a number of flashback scenes, Alica Kendeth, whose gamble would earn her the name of Red Queen, leaves an indelible mark on this story.
Although The Liar's Key is Lawrence's longest book to date, this doesn't have any influence on its rhythm. Indeed, this novel is a real page-turner! It's everything Prince of Fools was and then some! The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, but one that will have every fan clamoring for the final volume!
As was the case with its predecessor, The Liar's Key shares the same dark roots which gave The Broken Empire its unique flavor, yet it's not as dark and grim in its execution. Grimdark fans will nevertheless get their fill, while the lighter style and tone will appeal to those who usually find grimdark titles off-putting.
The Liar's Key shows a Mark Lawrence writing at the top of his game. Vaster in scope than any of his previous endeavors, this book cements the author's place among not only the very best grimdark authors on the market today, but the best fantasy authors out there, period. Writing with panache and aplomb, with The Red Queen's War Lawrence continues to make a name for himself. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, his name will become synonymous with fun and compelling reading experiences. Hearing people discussing Lawrence's books at a recent convention, George R. R. Martin asked if they were talking about "that thorn guy?" Well, if Lawrence keeps this up, everyone will soon know who that thorn guy is!
Definitely one of the fantasy novels to read in 2015!