Title: The Liar’s Key
Series: The Red Queen’s War #2
Author: Mark Lawrence
Prince Jalan Kendeth has spent the winter in the north, hiding from the cold – and from the husbands of his conquests, until the day comes when he is forced to leave and embarks in a new journey with Snorri, this time heading south – music to Jalan’s ears, already dreaming of home and all its comforts.
But comfort is the last thing on Snorri’s mind. Now in possession of Loki’s key, he only needs one more thing before he can bring back his wife and children: to find death’s door, and open it.
But their enemies have eyes on the key, and they won’t make his search easy.
A closer look
I read the first book of this series in August and I really enjoyed it. Even though the story itself is a classic quest, I still found the characters – especially the protagonist – to be interesting enough to follow them for hundreds of pages.
That’s pretty much what I was expecting from the second book in the series as well, minus the travel; what I got instead was a lot of travelling, and a bit less of what made the characters stand out so much to me. But let’s proceed with a bit of order.
The story opens six months after the events of the first book. Winter is finally relaxing his grasp on the north – or so they say; for Jalan, the weather is still too cold to do anything other than laying in bed, possibly with the wife of one man or another. Of course this life can’t last forever, and at one point is forced to leave before he’s punished for his endeavour; thankfully, his flight coincides with Snorri’s departure for the south in search of death’s door.
Thus begins the new adventure of the duo we came to love in the first book. The elements are all there: the charismatic protagonist, the honest and irreprensibile friend, and the journey. So what went wrong this time?
Well, for once, the beginning was a bit hard to digest, at least for me. As much as I love the characters, I found it boring and abandoned the book after a few chapters, only to pick it up again toward the end of the year – this time, in audiobook format.
Maybe it’s because of that that I pushed through the second time. The narrator does an amazing job at conveying Jalan’s personality and the tone of the story in general. The plot took a while to pick up, but the situation gets better with the addition of Kara, and then Hennan, to the group. So what was missing in the interactions between Jalan and Snorri – as the latter is suffering from a wound and not prone to chatting – is provided by the secondary characters.
I did miss the scenes when Snorri talks about his past that we had in the first book, because they made it easier to care for him and his struggles. Being constantly locked in Jalan’s head means that a lot of the deeper or touching stuff is kind of left out, as his thoughts mostly circle around money, women, and his own cowardice.
On the other hand, the addition of Jalan’s dreams/memories was really interesting! Even if discovering the past through dreams is not exactly innovative in terms of storytelling, the bits we got about the Red Queen and Jalan’s past were probably the most interesting thing for a good stretch of the book – and they were even helpful in moving forward, as they took place over days and we didn’t have to suffer through every single mile of the journey.
I have to say, I hoped for Jalan to experience a little more change in his behaviour from the first book. Most of the time he’s the same pompous ass, and ends up doing the right thing or escaping a situation mostly thanks to pure luck. There is some improvement, of course, and it starts appearing in the latter part of the story. We see it in the way he talks to his grandmother, and his feelings toward his past self; we see it in the way he starts to care a little for the people he knows, even when he keeps denying it to himself.
This is evident especially during his return home, when he feels quite disappointed by the way life has gone on without him; and then again toward the end, just before the cliffhanger that closes the book. It’s clear that his selfishness doesn’t sit well with him anymore, at least not fully, but he still struggles to understand why he feels that way.
I found the plot to be a bit lacking in this book; aside from travelling around, the main characters don’t get many things done. The bigger pieces on the board feel still too far away to be of interest – the Red Queen, the Blue Lady – and the story feels more like a setup for things to come.
I am extremely curious about the third book; judging by the end of this one, it could be either incredibly fascinating or extremely boring. And it sounds like it might be full of travelling again? But that’s just my guess, and even if that were the case, it might still be interesting depending on how the author decides to play his cards.
With this being the second book in a series, I don’t feel like I can really discuss any of the plot in details, so I’ll keep it brief. I still think this was a functional instalment in the series, if not exactly brilliant; not too much plot, but the characters are still interesting enough to follow. I guess my final judgement about the series will depend in large part on how the story resolves in the final book – which I will hopefully read soon.