City of Lies by Sam Hawke

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.
But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

I received a digital ARC from the publisher, Tor, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Have you ever encountered books that push all the right buttons, play all the right notes, tick all the boxes — in short, fit so well your tastes that it feels like it was written for you?

City of Lies is that kind of book for me.

The story is told from the alterning points of view of Jovan and his sister Kalina. Both are at the service of the Chancellor and his heir, Tain, as it is tradition in their family. These three characters are, without a doubt, why I adored City of Lies. A few months ago, I wrote about how nice protagonists are my favourites and how I wish to see more of them in fantasy. Tain, Jovan and Kalina are exactly the type of characters I crave. They are profoundly decent and their moral compass is on point, even when dealt with circumstances that are, to say the least, challenging.

They are interesting as individuals: Jovan has a form of OCD that can be crippling but has to overcome it in order to fulfil his duty to Tain and protect him from harm; Kalina suffers from an invisible, chronic disease and can’t shake her feeling of inadequacy; Tain has to shoulder responsibilities he’s not ready for. But their dynamic is also a very strong aspect of the story. Their relationships are layers of love and friendship, guilt and resentment. I can’t tell you how refreshing it feels to have complexity with characters that are not jerks.

The plot alternates between action scenes and intrigue. There is an army besieging the city-state before the quarter of the book, and I expected the pacing to suffer from it. That wasn’t the case. The tensions which arose during the siege and the twists and betrayals following the poisoning of the Chancellor kept my interest very much alive.

The worldbuilding is meticulously thought of. I loved how rich and real the setting felt; there is a cohesiveness to it, from the way families are structured to the political make-up of the city. There is also a forgotten lore that is slowly unearthed throughout the book. If you’re a fan, like me, of the “lost magic” trope, you’ll find it in a certain form here. Since one of the main characters has an encyclopaedic knowledge of poisons, it is also a prevalent element in the setting.

City of Lies explores themes that I found very appealing; the “otherisation” and xenophobia in times of trouble, social inequality, religion and traditions…

Everything in this book, from characters to plot, from ideas to worldbuilding, made for a fantastic read. I really, really hope there will be sequels.

City of Lies is to be released on July 3rd. 


  1. Always feel a little heartbreak when I reach the bottom of a review, and I learn that the book will be coming out later in the year. Fantastic review, though – I was particularly a fan of how you wrote in the tropes + described the characters. It gave me an idea of what to expect fairly quickly, and I must say that I’m quite hyped for this book!

    Liked by 1 person

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