The Liar’s Key picks up not far from where Prince of Fools left off. Our heroes are recovering from their ordeal at the Black Fort before setting out for their next destination. But one victory doesn’t mean their problems are over. Far from it. The Dead King still has a target on their backs as the protagonists try and deal with their own problems. So, it’s time for another journey across the kingdoms, dodging danger along the way. But danger isn’t the only thing Jalan and Snorri will encounter on their journey.
What would a new book be without new characters? That’s right, it’s time for new protagonists! As more people join the party, we start to enter Five-Man Band territory. And hey, this trope is a thing because it works. Now, I wouldn’t say that The Liar’s Key follows the Five-Man Band formula exactly, but it’s close. And as much as I love the relationship and banter between Jalan and Snorri, it would’ve been a bit much if the whole trilogy was just that. The new characters are very different and add a great amount of diversity and conflicting opinions to the dialogue and plot.
That being said, the story is still being told with Jalan as the central character. We still get to see his thoughts and how much people’s assumptions diverge from what he’s really thinking. But Mark Lawrence also incorporates something that was big in books 2 & 3 of the Broken Empire trilogy: flashbacks. Throughout The Liar’s Key, we start to see bits of Jalan’s childhood and how a few key events shaped him into who he is today. We’ve seen time and again that despite being a Dirty Coward, he’s also a Lovable Rogue. He’s got a Harry Dresden thing going where his brain says one thing, but his conscience tends to get the better of him. Though admittingly not always.
While the characters here are a lot more lighthearted than The Broken Empire’s cast, it’s the same world. The same cruel, cruel world. With all of its horrific violence and the reminder that even in a world with literal monsters, man is the true monster. And the full knowledge, of both us readers and characters themselves, that Jalan and co. are being treated like chess pieces in a much bigger game. Jalan is many things, but stupid isn’t one of them. And no one likes being treated like a game piece.
One last note, parts of this book are admittingly slow. It’s not the near non-stop action romp that was Prince of Fools. But it’s still a high-quality high fantasy adventure and I can’t wait to see how it wraps up.