Book Review: CITY OF LIES by Sam Hawke

Title in black above a cupped hand holding a bottle on orange skies
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 4.5 stars
Series: yes - first book in duology


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.

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This was the final book I read in 2020 (finishing at 20 minutes to midnight), and it was quite the book to finish on.

CITY OF LIES is an intricate political fantasy set in a besieged city. Not only is there the constant threat of another poisoning, but there is a massive time pressure thanks to the siege. The tension was so well done, with all the claustrophobia of being locked in knowing there were enemies around.

After not reading many political fantasies, to end on one this engrossing was fabulous, to be swept up in such a twisty tale that made me wonder how they were going to survive at all. The mystery of the poison and the enemies was great, and every time there was a short reprieve or it felt like they had a chance, something else would happen.

The book has rep for compulsive behaviour – and also features a character with an unspecified chronic illness that leaves her fatigued. I really liked seeing how it was just an aspect of character, in the background of the story. Jovan’s compulsive behaviour had no plot impact, and I liked that. It was simply part of who he was.

I’d have liked a map to help visualise the city better. There were a few times when they were discussing defences and retreats when it would have been so helpful to have a map. I’m not a visual reader – I can’t imagine these things myself with much ease. It’s a very minor thing, though.

The one thing to say about this book is it is enormous – over 600 pages. And it does feel it. It’s a slower paced book, with everything taking a long time to happen. It’s not the sort of book you eagerly snatch up and can read fast, but one you know is going to take a while – and can feel taking a while to read.

The book is apparently a standalone. It does have a sequel (a need-to-read!) but the author has said the two books function like standalones – though it feels like there’s a lot of character room left, particularly in Jovan and Tain’s relationship. I’m excited to to read on at some point.

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