Review: City of Lies (The Poison Wars #1) by Sam Hawke

Rating: 7.5/10


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.


City of Lies, Sam Hawke’s debut, has been on my TBR for quite a while. Ever since I saw the cover reveal for the sequel, and then saw the cover for this one, I knew I had to read them. (They are just so cool!)

This book is essentially a low-fantasy murder mystery book set within a city. Oh, and there’s also a huge threat looming right out the front door. The book is fairly different from a lot of fantasy, as we don’t follow characters who are super powered or have the typical assassin type skills. In fact, instead of following the assassins, we follow the man who stops the assassinations (and his sister).

Our two main protagonists, Jovan and Kalina, are siblings who work for the heir to the chancellorship of the country. Jovan is a tester in training, learning from his uncle who protects the chancellor from poison. However, when his uncle is murdered by an unknown poison, Jovan and Kalina are determined to figure out what happened. And now there’s a rebellion uprising that’s threatening the city.

There’s a lot to like about this book, and I only have a few minor issues. The story kicks off with a bang and an intriguing mystery from the start, and as a long-time mystery fan, I always enjoy that in my fantasy.

The city itself, where most of the story takes place, is well structured and considered the jewel of the world. The interactions between our protagonists and the different chancellors were interesting and enjoyable. There’s a lot of political negotiations and talk but was kept engaging throughout. And what I really liked about the book, was the way you were introduced to the world building in a slow drip – similar to how the characters slowly learn about their world as well.

The world building may be minimal compared to many fantasy series, but by the end of the book, I had a feel for much of the broader world even if we stayed in one city for the story. It was all done seamlessly and without much info-dump.

The way our protagonists react to the twists and turns of the story was realistic and I really appreciated the way that they use their minds rather than constantly relying on action. Not that there wasn’t action in the story, in fact there were some great scenes, but it wasn’t the focus. That was centered on the overall mystery and the threat facing the city.

I did have a few minor issues with City of Lies though. Both main characters are written from first-person perspective and while I really enjoy first person books, having two characters who are often in the same room, I found myself forgetting which character I was reading. While this wasn’t too big of an issue, it did pull me out of the reading experience a few times.

Finally, I felt that during the middle portion of the book the mystery that began the story gets lost a bit. The other overarching threat takes over the plot and the initial thrust and intrigue that I had at the beginning was gone. Thankfully, the final 100 or so pages were very good and led to a great climax.

Overall, City of Lies is a fun low-fantasy mystery story with lots of political intrigue and a dash of action. If you’re looking to read a slightly different perspective from the typical chosen one or assassin, I’d recommend giving this a shot. I look forward to reading Hollow Empire (which I’ve heard is even better) soon.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. aquavenatus says:

    I’ve heard that the sequel, HOLLOW EMPIRE, is very good! I’ll be reading it soon! I hope you consider reading it, too.


    1. jaredbesse says:

      Yes! I have a few other books to read first, but I plan on getting to it shortly!


  2. So glad you enjoyed this one! I agree, the middle section did lull a bit, but overall a great time. A murder mystery in a city under siege, racing to solve it before the city falls – such a great premise! And I agree with what you’ve heard, I think Hollow Empire is even better!


    1. jaredbesse says:

      Yeah I really did like it. And glad you like Hollow Empire! Can’t wait to dive into that one.

      Liked by 1 person

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