When I arrived at the World Fantasy Convention in Baltimore I was handed a heavy bag of complementary books, one of the perks of that fine convention. After a few horse trades I ended up going home with about two dozen brand new books, a very nice haul indeed.
I’ve been pulling them out one at a time, and when I reached deep into the bag last night the book that came out was City of Lies, the debut novel by Australian Sam Hawke, which looks like one of the most promising reads in the whole batch. In his Tor.com review Paul Weimer called it “an exemplar of the form” of city-state fantasy.
City of Lies tells its story from the perspective of Jov and Kalina, a pair of young siblings of noble rank who are coming of age in the city-state of Silastra. Jov is a poison expert in training, and the male equivalent of a maid-companion to Tain, nephew and heir to the Chancellor of Silatra. Kalina, on the other hand, whose path was to follow Jov’s, is physically disabled and has been trying to find her own path and her own role. The city-state is attacked from within and without: the Chancellor is assassinated, and it is up to Tain, Jov, and Kalina to face the beseiging army that has very coincidentally shown up as all this occurs, while the city-state’s own army is far away on a venture. City of Lies is the story of a city-state under siege, and of two siblings who must grow into their roles, inherited and self-selected, in order to try and save it…
This is a novel of discovery and unearthing of secrets, not only of the physical nature of the city, but also of its population. As Jov, Kalina and the rest of their peers learn the physical and topographical secrets of their city, they learn about their fellow inhabitants as well. As a reader, we learn about these factions and social strata, and get to see them change and evolve while under stress, changes that often surprise the protagonists themselves in the process… City of Lies succeeds very well as a city-state fantasy, an exemplar of the form.
City of Lies is the opening novel in The Poison War, a new series from Tor. It will be followed by Hollow Empire, due in trade paperback next December. Here’s the back cover blurbs for both.
First up. City of Lies.
Poison. Treachery. Ancient spirits. Sieges. The Poison Wars begin now, with City of Lies, a fabulous epic fantasy debut by Sam Hawke
I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me…
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.
And here’s the blurb for Hollow Empire.
Poison was only the beginning… The deadly siege of Silasta woke the ancient spirits, and now the city-state must find its place in this new world of magic. But people and politics are always treacherous, and it will take all of Jovan and Kalina’s skills as proofer and spy to save their country when witches and assassins turn their sights to domination.
City of Lies was published on July 3 by Tor Books. It is 559 pages, priced at $28.99 in hardcover, $15.99 in trade paperback, and $9.99 for the digital edition. The cover is by Greg Ruth. Read the complete first chapter here.
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