“Ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil’s fire”
I received an uncorrected proof copy of One Word Kill in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Mark Lawrence and 47North for approaching me to read this early.
On the 8th January 1986, Nick Hayes, a gangly 15-year-old who is extremely intelligent is diagnosed with leukaemia. The doctors advise that he may only have up to 5 years to live. In the local hospital, he goes through Chemotherapy and shares a children’s ward with many other suffering youths as they weaken and essentially fade from health and normality. He has to visit the hospital weekly yet when he is not there he is living the life of a normalish geeky teenager. Going to school, dealing with bullies, scared to talk to girls but what he looks forward to the most is the weekly D&D meet-ups he has with his best friends. They can forget about the monotony and hardships real-life presents and lose themselves in a fantastical adventure where their imagination is the only limitation. When he is playing, even Nick forgets about what ails him. It all seems pretty straightforward until intense deja-vu affects the protagonist, a shadowy stranger starts stalking him, certain events that happen in their sessions are scarily close to some real-life events and what’s even scarier than all is that a young lady has joined the group’s D&D party!
It’s no secret that in my humble opinion Mark Lawrence is one of the finest and most consistent fantasy authors currently writing. By profession, Lawrence is actually a scientist so it seemed like only a matter of time before he made the foray into the science fiction genre. This is completely unlike anything Lawrence has published before. This isn’t like any science fiction stories I’ve read previously and for all the elements of time travel, parallel universes, complex mathematics and quantum mechanics, it features drug dealers, local psychopaths and the D&D group trying to learn how to dance to impress the ladies. It’s a peculiar mix but I’m happy to say it works expertly.
The story is presented through Nick’s first-person perspective and he is a very likeable character who is a joy to follow. The accompanying cast is surprisingly deep and well fleshed out to say that this is quite a short book. I’d estimate it’s approximately 90,000 words. In addition to Nick, My favourite characters were Mia, the goth girl who joins the boys’ games, Elton, who adores his kung-fu practising, and John, the cool dude who loves D&D but doesn’t mention it to any of his school friends. Also, a character called Demus who I will say nothing about but who is hugely important and influential to the overall narrative and progression of the tale.
It is difficult to summarise and this probably won’t be accurate enough but this is the best I can come up with. This seemed like a mix of Stranger Things, Donnie Darko, the Xbox game Alan Wake mixed with the youthful antics and awkwardness seen in comedy shows The Inbetweeners and The Big Bang Theory. Some of the scientific language written does come across occasionally as confusing and very hi-tech and knowing Mark’s profession I imagine it’s all legit and accurate. Although the story is complex, multi-layered, unpredictable and ultimately enduring it wasn’t too difficult for me to follow as Lawrence is an excellent writer. The writing is sometimes intoxicating and addictive however surreal and bizarre certain events may be and I loved the humourous flow and banter between the friends. Mark’s prose is poetic and sometimes, in a good way, hypnotising. I read One Word Kill within 24 hours and it was all I could think about to the extent where I dreamt about the shadowy character who stalks Nick!
The world building is admirable whether describing the suburbs in London, a friend’s council flat or describing the London underground service. There are lots of brilliant references to the mid-80’s such as the fact Back to the Future had just been released, kids play on their Commodore 64’s and that everyone believes Hoverboards will be the obvious invention that the future will present. I really enjoyed, and I bet Mark enjoyed writing the descriptions of the D&D ventures. These sections are closer to what he has written before but with more humour, teenagers innocence and tropes including typical creatures like orcs, vampires, mages, clerics, warriors that will probably prompt a sense of nostalgia for his readers and the target audience. I regret that I’ve never played D&D. 😦
This is not released until April 2019 but already in August 2018, this is one of the finest uncorrected proofs I have ever read. I did not notice a single error which is exceptional and shows the hard work Mark, Agnes and 47North have put into this tale. This works perfectly as a standalone. The ending is absolutely spectacular and wraps everything up perfectly. I loved the setting, the protagonist, the characters including the supporting and very minor players, the thrills and spills and emotions. To be honest, the very minor and possible negative that I have is that some of the terminologies threw me off balance very occasionally. 47North enjoyed this book so much they asked Lawrence to turn it into a trilogy of which all the books will be released in 2019. A note to his current fans, although a few scenes are dark and gruesome this is very different to his previous works. An exceptional adventure featuring time travel, a gang of geeks that’s cleverly composed, thrilling and will hopefully aid Lawrence’s to rise to the top of the game in another genre. I loved it.