The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell


"What I do is me: for that I came."
Feb 14, 2020
The Kingdom of Liars is the debut novel of Nick Martell. It is an epic fantasy set in a world where the cost of using magic is memory and a shattered moon rains pieces of itself onto the world. Michael Kingman has spent most of his young life branded as a traitor to the kingdom of Hollow because his father, David Kingman, killed the young prince ten years before. Obsessed with regaining the former honor of his family's bloodline and learning the true reasons for his father's crime, Michael joins the dangerous game of courtship and political maneuvering that takes place among the Hollow Court's nobility. Along the way he will face former allies turned enemies and uncover the secrets hidden within his own memories.

I will be honest and upfront. I did not enjoy reading this book. I initially picked it up because I enjoy the writing of Brandon Sanderson and hearing that he gave this book a fairly glowing review blurb piqued my interest in it. I wanted to like the book, and for most of my time reading it I was prepared to give it a lukewarm recommendation for anyone who wanted to read what the newest authors in epic fantasy are writing. The world Martell created stands out in a lot of ways. The magic system, while never fully explored, is fleshed out just enough so that you understand how it changes the people who live with it. The shattered moon is also a nice world building piece, as it gives the novel a strange atmosphere and leaves the reader to wonder at the mysteries it provokes.

However, much of the strength of the world building ends there. Because the entirety of this novel takes place within the city of Hollow, the rest of the world exists mostly as names that are mentioned in passing. There are a lot of proper place names invoked multiple times, but the reader is rarely given any idea as to where these places are in relation to Hollow, except in a vaguely general "out there" sense. Additionally, even though the entire novel takes place within this one city, Hollow itself is treated in much the same way. Places in the city are mentioned by name and visited, but there is very little understanding of where any of them are in relation to the others.

Much of this obfuscation is the fault of a first person narrator, which is not a problem by itself. The narrator is very unreliable, which I assumed would later become a strength of the book. He learns pieces of information in one scene, then puts them aside until the novel requires him to remember them again. Many chapters felt self-contained because they did not appear to change the overall plot of the novel other than being a thing that happened; they create no consequences for the main character and are often forgotten by the characters on the next page. Because of how the magic system worked, I surmised that this was intentional and that there would be revelations at the end that tied the disparate secrets and barely-remembered mysteries together in a satisfying way. I was half right; many of the mysteries were resolved at the end of novel. I did not find the way in which they were resolved to be satisfying. I would even go so far as to say that I was disappointed by how the author handled them.

I will also mention very briefly that the prose in this novel is not as good as it could have been. There are a number of mixed metaphors or descriptions that paint the same thing in multiple (and confounding) ways. Also (this is a personal pet peeve), the author elects multiple times to insert a pause in dialogue by literally inserting the two word sentence "A pause." instead of description that creates a natural pause. It happened far too many times for it to be a small mistake that a better writer missed in revisions.

The Kingdom of Liars (2.5 stars) is an OK debut novel that falls apart near the end through a confluence of confusing reveals, blundering prose, and deus ex machina resolutions. If you do not expect too much of it, this can be a fun read that, at times, moves fairly quickly. Many scenes are gripping in their own way, even if some of those scenes do not seem to lend much to the overall plot or create character growth. I would not, as Sanderson did in his review, call it, "Excellent." It is a passably mediocre fantasy novel that I hope the young author learns from and improves upon in his career.