Review: The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

Publication details: 9 December 2021, by Orbit. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Rating: 4.5/5

Review

The Mask of Mirrors was one of my favourite books of 2021 and I was thrilled to get an ARC of book #2 not long after I read it (even if I then delayed said review, since I was decidedly not in an epic fantasy mood for a few weeks).

Luckily, I loved The Liar’s Knot as much as The Mask of Mirrors, though it’s a very different book in some ways. Secondary world urban fantasy is something that I wish we saw more of, and this series does it wonderfully. Like the first book, the setting is a real highlight. There are clear Venetian inspirations, but none of it feels paint by the numbers, particularly given the various high fantasy concepts woven throughout, which we learn a lot more about in this book. Nadezra also feels like a lived-in place, as we get lots of little details about both the city and its various inhabitants that help build the big picture.

A side note, but I really like the way that ethnic tensions are seeded throughout the book. This series is not a full-blown war story between rival factions, but you can feel things bubbling along under the surface (with the occasional fiery outbreak), in a way that feels much deeper and more complex to unpick than just ‘culture A hates culture B for reasons’. It’s clear the authors have spent a lot of time thinking through their world-building in all its sociopolitical detail.

But while the world-building remains top-notch, it’s clear the characters have moved on from The Mask of Mirrors. By the end of book #1, Ren had tied herself up in all kinds of knots as she tried to maintain three seperate secret identities, and there was a sense of frantic energy as you knew it had to unravel… but when? The fun, and the tension, came from watching each of our characters trying to hide all of their various secrets, and digging themselves a new hole with every one they climbed out of. To their credit, the authors don’t try to keep this masquerade up past the point that it’s no longer believable – instead, the focus shifts to what it means for characters to trust each other and find common ground in pursuit of their various goals. The result is a much more intimate – but equally tense – sequel, as we see what choices our characters make armed with new information about each other.

I am very curious to see whether our characters’ tentative new bonds can weather the storm that’s inevitably coming in book #3. After all, all our characters – not just Ren – still have plenty of secrets to be revealed.

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