The Liar’s Key – Mark Lawrence

Synopsis: 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 toward an endgame of her own design…

Corey: AND WE’RE BACK! The Liar’s Key doesn’t waste any time at all, picking up in effectively the same spot where Prince of Fools left off. Our hero/coward Jalan was getting a bit too comfortable, all nestled in, safe & warm at his inn in the North. So of course he is literally pushed into a way-too-small boat by his friends, to begin the dangerous next leg of Snorri’s mad quest. Hijinks ensue. Violence ensues. GIANT ZOMBIFIED WOLVES ENSUE!! This series is nothing if not fast-paced, and book two showed no signs of slowing down. Another brilliantly written Mark Lawrence novel!

Holly: Is a fantasy novel complete without giant zombified wolves? I THINK NOT!!!

The pacing of this installment is where we differ a bit (I mean, it *does* occasionally happen!) I thought The Liar’s Key started somewhat slow. The first 100 pages or so seemed uneven. The story that unfolded took some time before hitting that typically insane pace that I have come to know & love from Mark Lawrence! The almost frenetic pace of the journey in the beginning of the series. Perhaps some of that for me was because as much as I was expecting this to be about Snorri & his quest, he was actually somewhat relegated to a background character for a good portion of this sequel. I missed that easy comradery between Jal & Snorri that made the story flow so well in Prince of Fools.

However, we do get to see more from the too precious for this world Tuttugu & I’m more than okay with that (although I basically just want ALL THE SNORRI PLOT SHOVED INTO MY EYEHOLES!!!) We also pick up a few new characters along the perilous journey. Hennan, an orphan boy who is incredibly intelligent & sweet. You can’t help but feel for him! And Kara, a trainee witch. She is a tricky one to figure out. What is her deal? Is she on the journey under false pretenses? Is she as cunning as she appears? One thing is for sure certain, I am happy to have a badass female join the crew!

And so the fantasy fellowship becomes more diverse & interesting!

Corey: For sure, the cast of characters has grown more fascinating & diverse! Kara is definitely a welcome addition to the crew, someone I’m hoping we learn even more about in The Wheel of Osheim. And definitely, there’s large portions of this book where we go without Snorri altogether, and his presence is sorely missed!

What ended up being my favorite element of The Liar’s Key are these amazing glimpses of Alica, Garyus, and The Silent Sister in their youth. By means of magic, Jal is able to see into the past, entering these long dreams where he witnesses key events in his grandmother Alica’s rise to power as The Red Queen. The backstory here is so rich, and Alica is just so fucking fierce & unrelenting….WE NEED A PREQUEL!!!! Every time Jalan enters that dream-state, it’s transfixing.

Holly: YES!!! I think the story really shines during the flashbacks that go into origin details about Jal’s grandmother, her siblings & how she earned the title of Red Queen. These scenes truly establish how complex the worldbuilding is that Lawrence has crafted. I am eager to see how the story arc all comes together in The Wheel of Osheim!

Alica Kendeth, even though we only see glimpses of her throughout flashbacks, is such a force to be reckoned with! What a multifaceted character. We could easily have an entire trilogy focused around The Red Queen alone!

The expanding cast of characters also includes Lady Blue of course & her agent the Dead King. The two will stop at nothing to get their hands on THE PRECIOUSSS.. er.. Loki’s key, the powerful force that is said to open any lock that Snorri is now in possession of. The story charges forth with these broad characters adding dimension to an already magical adventure!

Corey: The overarching conflict between The Red Queen and Lady Blue really is incredible. Seeing how they each exert control, move their pieces into place, play people who don’t even realize they’re being played.

I guess if I had one criticism of the book, it would be about Jal’s short stint as, what…almost a day trader? I mean, in the end, it turns into a necessary plot device, but it slowed the story down for me a bit, at a time when it felt like the pace should be gathering steam. A minor complaint, and some of those scenes are also quite funny.

I guess what I find so fascinating about Jalan is his inner struggle to avoid changing or growing, at all costs. It’s like he’s going to fight until the bitter end to not experience any growth as a human being. Even though we see the subtle cracks in his shallow & callous nature, he’s actively working to seal those cracks back up.

Holly: Exactly. There *are* cracks. He does do a bit of maturing throughout this installment. It’s quite something to watch Jal discover that he is ::GASP:: developing somewhat of a conscience! Having him as a first-person POV really does add so much insight into his character.

One of my favorite scenes in the book was when Jalan runs into mercenaries & hilarity ensues! I enjoy the occasional random fun encounter in my fantasy books! It really showcased Jal as such a vivacious, entertaining character. You can’t help but like the conceited little prick!

Corey: Absolutely, and I think with both The Broken Empire trilogy & now The Red Queen’s War books, giving us a protagonist who is by rights, unlikable, and making him compelling, interesting, and downright charming….it’s a gift Mark Lawrence has. The humor in this book is fucking delightful, and wonderfully offsets some of the more grim aspects of the story.

Holly: Definitely! I think in many ways The Red Queen’s War series would appeal to even more of a broader audience because of that very fact – it isn’t as grim as The Broken Empire (something I was missing when we first began this series. Because I am a masochist!) The tone is lighter, but there is still plenty of darkness throughout for the hardcore grimdark fan, as well!

This isn’t a book you devour. There are far too many things to soak in for that. Flashbacks, new characters, the world-building continues to be explored & expanded upon. ALL THE THINGS!

Lawrence is like a madman behind the scenes throwing this & that into the story mix, layer by layer, piece by piece. I really think he is just scratching the surface within this incredible universe!

The Grimdragons Rating: 4.5 stars!

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