Firstly, I’d like to thank Mark Lawrence for gifting me an e-copy of the proof for One Word Kill through Netgalley.
Mark Lawrence is a power-house in the world of fantasy and One Word Kill is his first foray into science fiction. He takes us back to 80’s London, in what’s being described as Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.
It’s been a couple of days now since I finished One Word Kill, and despite feeling that it probably wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, I’m still thinking about it. I keep forgetting that I’m not still reading it – I keep trying to pick it back up again and continue the story. Despite any reservations I may have, you can’t deny this is the mark of a good book.
So, why is it on my mind?
Because Lawrence is a compelling storyteller. So much so, you don’t want his stories to end. It’s something I always say about his writing, but it is so easy to read and I was relieved to discover this was still the case despite the switch in genres. I’d burn through the pages in each sitting (although this year opportunities to just sit and read have been rarer than I’d like). In the past, I’ve always loved how rich Lawrence’s prose was; the richness was absent from One Word Kill but this only served to cement it in “the real world.” This book isn’t Lawrence being Lawrence just in a different setting; this book is very much independent from those gone before it.
And yet having said that, Lawrence’s stamp is firmly on this book. He has a way with words that resonate with you, moments that make you pause and give you food for thought:
“On the day he died he told me: ‘The equations that govern the universe don’t care “now”. You can ask them questions about this time or that time, but nowhere in the elegance of their mathematics is there any such things as “now”. The idea of one specific moment, one universal “now” racing along at sixty minutes an hour, slicing through the seconds, spitting the past out behind it and throwing itself into the future… that’s just an artefact of consciousness, something entirely of our own making that the cosmos has no use for.’
We spoke like that.”
Along with the flow of the narrative, something else Lawrence did bring to this D&D table was his ability to create complex and relatable characters. Regular readers of my reviews will know this is always an important factor for me and it’s no less true in One Word Kill. These characters have fears and motivations, but they have ticks and quirks too that lift them from merely being characters on a page and into people you feel you’re getting to know. Lawrence has a way of describing characters that make them so easy to visualise, they jump from the page:
“Michael Devis had a broad face, dark flinty eyes, and a remarkably clear complexion for a fifteen-year-old boy. He deserved acne. You want people’s badness to show. The poison inside him should be bursting out.”
Lawrence has always been skilled at conveying the various dynamics within friendships groups – in both Prince of Thorns and Red Sister for example – and again it really came into play here. The interactions between these characters were a joy, their friendships felt inherently real, human, and… Well, normal. There’s the friend who always gets way too into the game, the friend who always gets to go on amazing holidays with their parents, the friend who feels more like a family member than your actual family members.
What about those pesky reservations I had?
Despite the fact it was so easy to read, and it still played on my mind after, it just didn’t seem to light a spark in me. There are so many people who seem to have fallen head-over-heels for this book, so I feel this just boils down to my own personal taste. I certainly cared a great deal more about the characters than what was happening to them; I guess the general plot of the story didn’t grip me as much.
The selling point of One Word Kill for me had been “Stranger Things set in London.” I was looking forward to being immersed in 1980’s London and awash in nostalgia for Britain at that time; although there were references (Club bars–which I think you can still get but seemed a big thing when I was a child, including Wagonwheels– having to memorise people’s phone numbers, the Tottenham riots, going down the shop with a note from your Mam for her ciggies)… But I’d have loved more. I had the sense that maybe someone in the process wanted to keep this book accessible for audiences outside of Britain – and I understand – but it would have been amazing to have had something that was so unabashedly British. Skipping over references in books and TV shows because you didn’t grow up in America is somewhat of a given for many Brits, I feel. I’d have loved to see that lack of reserve in One Word Kill. My copy was pre-proof, so I’m not sure if these were picked up in the final proof, but there was the odd Americanism… I’m the first to hold up my hand and confess to being a pedant, but these moments just served to lift me out of the book’s specific setting (e.g. commercial instead of advert, referring to someone’s mother as ma’am, takeout instead of take-away – yes I know, I have a problem)
In summary, I would recommend One Word Kill, as I would recommend any of Mark Lawrence’s writing; but as far as personal preference goes I still love his fantasy. Speaking of which, his short story Bound is next on my reading list, followed by the highly-anticipated Holy Sister!