I picked up One Word Kill for two reasons: I like Mark Lawrence and I like Dungeons and Dragons. Objectively speaking, this book is probably 5 stars. I personally could not get that into it, so I am meeting halfway with a 4-star review. My opinion here is probably biased because I am used to reading longer books. When you normally stick to 400-800 page novels, something 200 pages feels too short. Less time for plot and character development makes things seemed rushed. Not necessarily bad, just rushed. But this book feels like it also needs a bit of pre-existing knowledge to be fully appreciated.
So, first there is the title: One Word Kill. This refers to a magic spell in the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) game the characters play called Power Word Kill. In D&D, almost everything is determined by rolling dice. Whether your character hits an enemy or is hit in turn, how well social interactions go, and more. Power Word Kill is a very powerful endgame spell that ignores dice and just kills the target. Many people who play the game consider it BS. While the book explains all this, it is a bit hard to appreciate unless you have first-hand experience with it. That is a key theme here; how some things are so hard to fight it makes the battle seem unwinnable.
The other big thing here is the mystery; the mysterious stranger and the friend in danger. On a story level it is constructed well, but it was not all that mysterious. From the perspective of the main character, sure, there was tension and build-up. But for nerds who regularly occupy their time with sci-fi/fantasy stories, not so much. On top of that, it cannot be said that this story really did anything new.
One Word Kill takes place in the 80’s and the characters are kids. Stranger Things, check. Fantasy games are being used as a metaphor to battle serious, real-world problems. A Monster Calls and I Kill Giants, check. And more, but other comparisons cannot be mentioned in this review without spoilers.
Analysis aside, this is a good book. It was Mark Lawrence’s first crack at sci-fi over his usual fantasy work and he did a damn fine job. Despite all the nitpicking in this review. If you want something to read on a weekend afternoon, you could do a lot worse than One Word Kill.