City of Lies by Sam Hawke Book #1 of the Poison War

In the same vain as Jerry Maguire, “You had me from hello”, Sam Hawke had me from the first sentence of her debut novel. “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me”, and with that I was sold and embarked on a unique and one of a kind story. The plot involves: Poisons, ancient spirits, poverty, and social status, and mysteries brought to the page with Sam Hawke’s beautiful imagination and skill.

Published in 2018 and with the release of Book #2 The Hollow Empire, the Poison War series is ripe for rediscover to a grander audience with the attention it deserves. We follow two POV’s throughout the story: Jovan – a proofer, or master of poisons and chemicals, he is the lifelong friend of the chancellor of the city-state, and Kalina – Jovan’s sister. When the Chancellor suddenly falls ill to an unknown poison and the city starts to be sieged by an invading army, Jovan and Kalina need to regroup and save the city before it falls.

City of Lies reads in the same manor as a murder mystery. Tracking down the people responsible for poisoning of the chancellor and the deeps’ they would go to see the city-state crumble was very well done. This is a character driven, 1st person story as you experience the world through their eyes and experience their emotions first hand. What make this story so interesting is that their is no magic to speak of. Hawke uses the mystery of the plot, mixed with religious and ancient spirit as the world building to push the story forward.

Jovan was an absolute joy to read. Learning about his training, the different groups he becomes involved with being friends with the Chancellor, and how his character evolves throughout the story was an absolute blast. Kalina’s plot line does start a bit slow, but by the half way point, she really starts to show her stars as she becomes more involved in the political and informational parts of the story. One additional treat is the each chapter has a description of a known poison in the story, what are the symptoms, and how to treat it. I thought that this was a very nice touch!

Sam Hawke very much impressed me with her debut novel. She not only told a solid story, but she shows that you don’t need the big battles, or the complex magic system to create a good fantasy story. All you need is great characters, a good plot, and desire from the reader to look forward to reading the next chapter and whatever poisons may come with it!

Keep an eye out for the Hollowed Empire in December 2020!


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