City of Lies by Sam Hawke

cityoflies_coverTitleCity of Lies
Series: Poison Wars #1
Author(s): Sam Hawke
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: ARC
Release Date: July 3rd 2018
Pages: 512
Genre(s): Fantasy, Mystery
ISBN13: 9780765396891
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Who said big and chunky epic fantasy novels weren’t appetizing? Debut author Sam Hawke rushes to the table to prove their worth by serving us a delicious tale stuffed with poison, political treachery and ancient spirits. This dish however doesn’t come on the usual silver platter. What we find ourselves in front is a fantasy story grounded in mystery. As rare as they are, Sam Hawke showcases her outstanding storytelling talent and presents us a debut novel that is both visually-arresting and succulently-crammed with intrigue. All you have to do is let her clear-cut and meticulous writing style do all the talking.

In City of Lies, readers are thrown into the complex city of Silasta and follow the adventures of both Jovan and his sister Kalina. Friends to the Chancellor’s heir, their skill set amounts to the art of proofing, which essentially consists of testing food for poisons. With their mastery of these substances and chemicals obtained through a ruthless training during their childhood, they have sworn to protect the Chancellor’s family from all attempts of assassination. It is upon an unexpected incident within the family that all hell broke loose, but finding out that the city is being besieged by an army is when they stop believing in coincidences and start driving head first into a wall of lies and corruption. The mystery that hence follows Jovan and Kaline urges them to desperately haunt for answers in order to protect the Heir and the city of Silasta from being overthrown.


A fantasy story spiked with mystery is one of the most compelling and intriguing mix in literature. City of Lies embraces it with warmth and deadly desire, and delivers it within a political web of deception and class warfare. The mere societal structure developed by Sam Hawke in the city of Silasta is brilliant and helps give life to the city itself. Told in first person, with an alternative POV between both characters, readers find themselves slowly expanding their understanding of the intricacies of the city’s functioning, but also their understanding of the lies on which it is all built. How Sam Hawke progressively reveals bits and pieces of the answers to all the questions readers have is brilliant, but her ability to create even more doubt and dump more questions on her readers is even more outstanding.

As if that wasn’t enough, Sam Hawke’s attention to poison is engrossing. Kicking off each chapter with a lesson on a particular poison in order to break it down to a concise and comprehensive look at them (description, symptoms and proofing cues), she ultimately makes a specialist out of all her readers. It’s pretty amazing to see how much of a threat any and all consumables can be, especially with Jovan and Kalina’s proofing skills that highlight the treacherous world in which the high-ranked folks live in. While the world-building and the mystery plot are both amazing, I found myself less mesmerized by the characters, even if they had some great moments. My inability to truly distinguish them from one another is my biggest complaint, but Jovan’s point of view makes up for it plenty.

City of Lies turned out to be a dazzling debut novel from an author who definitely has a voice of her own. What she brings to the table is not the typical poison you’d find on your shelves, but an original, powerful and mystery-filled poison that will seduce you into wanting more.


Thank you Raincoast Books and Tor Books for sending me a copy for review!




51 thoughts on “City of Lies by Sam Hawke

    1. I went into it pretty much blind. I saw it a couple of months ago and was hooked by the premise. I’m really happy by what it turned out to be. I totally understand how the size could be intimidating. I always felt like these fat fantasy book are the reason why I don’t read as many books as so many others do! 🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  1. You know, Brandon Sanderson, GRR Martin, etc write tomes. But these upstarts, debuting with tomes? No.

    I’m seeing it happen more and more and I’ll be honest, I’m not happy with it nor do I think it bodes well for the health of writing as a whole. It encourages authors, who haven’t learned the skills yet, to be verbose where they need to be sparse, to use 5words that are ALMOST right instead of the 1 word, the RIGHT word. Stories told right need to be lean and tight. Once you’ve learned that skill, THEN you can handle the big league stuff. Sorry for raining on your parade. In the last year I just keep seeing these debut authors start with 500-800 page novels and I wonder to myself, how are they going to learn if they’re not reined in?

    I am glad you really enjoyed this and I’m not trying to start an argument about whether this is a good or bad book. I’m just concerned with the trend this represents is all.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The fact that the chatacters are indistinuishable from eachother kinda points out the number of pages isn’t used to its full potential. The generic title doesn’t help to get my hopes up either. The other warning is a seemingly ‘cool’, ‘original’ plot divice (the poison stuff) that tries to set the book apart.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It is indeed a bit sad that both characters weren’t easy to distinguish, but at least there’s still room for improvement in all departments. Hope you find yourself a book that satisfies you. Thanks for dropping by.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, it seems it becomes harder and harder to find truly good books among the floods being published. As I have less time as before, my tolerance for so so books has drastically sunk. I’ve only just recently come across two 2018 books I want to read (the new Watts and the new McDonalds novella). I do have high hopes though for the new KSR and Cixin Liu that will come out later this year. Reading other blogs is essential in that evergoing quest. Btw, I just finished reading Version Control, Dexter Palmer’s near-future time travel novel from 2016, which was truly fantastic. (I hope the review on my blog can convince anybody reading this, it’s one of the best books of recent years.)

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Yep, they do. I just know that a lot of folks don’t like the idea of tackling huge tomes. And a debut novel that is as big as this too? Not easy to get readers to commit to that.

      I don’t ONLY read FAT fantasy books, so I really have yet to run into a run of books that are huge with tiny fonts. I tend to see them in the 400-600 range, and most of the time I love the writing style and devour the details (especially for world-building). I do understand that it would be a shame if authors don’t try to aim for shorter fantasy books to start of their careers, but so far they all tend to be pretty good and never really flirt with purple prose.

      Hopefully it’s not a trend, and if it is or does become one, I hope us readers will look to find and support the authors who still write shorter/tighter fantasy stories.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. On tomes, I think it’s a emerging trend too. Part of that must be the success of A Song Of Fire And Ice, and to a lesser extent Sanderson’s planned 10 book series. People tend to be copycats. I guess another big part – probably the biggest part – is simply technology: computers and word processors tend to make writing seem a lot easier than back in the days of Tolkien. Try typing a tome, or using a fountain pen. That, and the ever sinking cost of printing, which makes it easier for publishers to cater to audiences on the lookout for the next binge. (As such I also think the way TV-series are watched today also feeds a bit into how people approach reading.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for a great review. I just ordered this – July is a slow release month for me and this looked like an interesting title to add to the month’ s list – almost every review I’ve read has been over the top positive. Cheers, Brian

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading, sir. I’m really glad to hear that you actually plan on reading this pretty soon. It has indeed gotten a lot of positive reviews (based on what I’ve been seeing), so I hope you’ll have an awesome time with it Brian!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It really comes down to expectations at this point. It’s pretty weak in the “fantasy” side of things, and much more stronger on the “mystery” side of things. It’s the combination that needs to be your cup of tea to really enjoy it. Hopefully you’ll have a good time with it. I’ll look forward to your thoughts on it! 😀


  3. Another brilliant review! I remember seeing this book make an appearance over on a couple of other blogs before I went on my hiatus, and they were all raving about it. The only thing that I am a bit scared of is the fact that you describe the characters could have been handled somewhat better. I always think characters are a very important part of books/movies, etc. But nonetheless you get me interested in this one enough! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Michel. I appreciate the kind words. I was pretty curious since the first day I ran into the cover, title and premise. When I started it, I was pretty much oblivious to what it was about and having no expectations really helped in enjoying this a lot more. Yep.. The characters aren’t the best I’ve ever seen in my life, and I think they can kill it for some people, but they can also be appreciated for their flaws and how they’re portrayed. It just depends on how important it is for the reader. Thanks again for reading, my man! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not going to say big fantasy books aren’t appetizing but I can get a little put off by the huge page count sometimes (there’s a reason I still haven’t read the fifth Song of Fire and Ice book yet). Still great review for City of Lies Lashaan. It sounds amazing; seriously between the story and the world building was there anything you think wasn’t done well? You even said the characters had great moments although they were’t perfect (guess we can’t have everything right?)
    Great review. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Beth! You’re back from your trip!!! You have been missed. 😀 And yes! I know all about your hesitation with phat books. It would indeed take a lot of convicing to get you to invest time into these. Maybe someday you’ll get curious enough to try it out yourself. 😀 And indeed, not everything is perfect here (otherwise, you’d see me raving about it way more and giving it a full 5 stars). Maybe the author’s next book will accomplish that though. Who knows. 😀 Thanks for reading, Beth!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I don’t mind “tomes” at all, but have to admit I am always hesitant to invest in them as an intro or debut. It is a huge commitment for the unknown and not something I tend to to favor. This does sound promising and I love the idea of introducing poisons with each chapter, but characters are a big selling point for me in fantasy (they have to equally rival the world building) so this one does have me on the fence. Although the.mystery element can be fun! Excellent review as always Lashaan 🖤 So glad you enjoyed this!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed! A debut novel this big can be too risky for some, but man… I’ve yet to run into a BIG book that was disappointing because of an excess of words. It’s probably why it turns me off way less than others. Yep. I didn’t find these two characters to be particularly mind-blowing, but they might have some selling points that I simply didn’t put emphasis on. Hopefully when you get the chance to try it out, if ever, you’ll have a good time with it. Thank you so much for reading, Danielle! I appreciate it a lot! ❤


    1. Thank you so much, Kim!! Same here. I love being surprised by it too. Not knowing that it has a heavy emphasis on mystery, while being a fantasy story, is a beautiful surprise for me! Hope you get the chance to read it soon. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, Dani. I find them fun. And it also helps me satisfy my need for mystery without having to pick up a “bad” psychological thriller too! 😀 It is my pleasure. Thanks for stopping by, Dani. I appreciate it. 🙂


      1. I have been really stuffing with long books this year. I think it’s because if I’m busy I sometimes stop reading for a week and then when I’m halfway through the book it really takes away from the strong telling. I have Brent thing to read short fast ones so I can get the full effect.

        Liked by 1 person

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