The Girl on the Liar’s Throne follows on from The Boy Who Wept Blood, (reviewed here), and completes Den Patrick’s Erebus Sequence trilogy which began with The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, published in 2014.
All of the qualities of the previous books are retained:
The Italianate secondary world setting of Landfall; the rich and elegant prose; plenty of action and well-realised characterisation.
Again, the book chooses a different lead character to focus on, preferring to allow only cameo appearances for the main protagonists of the previous two books, (Lucien and Dino, respectively). This time, Anea, the veil-wearing ‘Silent Queen’ is the primary point of view. Like both Lucien and Dino, Anea is also an ‘Orfani,’ a person with a unique physical mutation that endows some aspect of heightened capability. In Anea’s case, this is high-functioning intelligence, with a particular inclination towards the sciences; in Dino’s case, a superior skill with blades. Whatever the mutation, the Orfani are equally revered and reviled so some choose not to reveal this aspect of themselves, and the trilogy makes much use of this notion of suppressed identity and fear of acceptance.
Having become reclusive to the point of absenteeism in the previous book, Anea is queen no longer, having been secretly deposed, an imposter in disguise having replaced her on the throne, (hence the book’s title). She is displaced in body and mind, being cast into the cruellest of dungeons, her memories and sense of self having been erased. The main thrust of the book is her struggle to return from this isolation, gather allies and undo those who plotted against her.
For the most part the drama centres round the high baroque castle-complex of Demesne, (pronounced ‘Dem-eyne’), a labyrinthine series of interlocking grand and not-so-grand houses which almost comprises a town in its own right. Each house is the historical seat of a family of the nobility, and has a traditional remit of responsibility (read: ‘power’), to provide an elite of scholars, or soldiers or financiers, for example. This provides a backdrop for various interwoven and internecine schemes as families plot to usurp one another to gain influence or status, all the while maintaining a thin pretence of collaboration.
Because of this, trusting anyone is a challenge for Anea, who cannot really trust herself either, tormented as she is by half-recollections of her previous life. Ultimately, the foundations of this society are too weakened by self-interest to endure a coup d’etat, but the allegiance between would-be usurpers is also shown to be similarly challenged. Will the familial bonds of love and trust between individuals be enough to effect a rebellion against the new regime? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
And doing so is a joy. Whilst the previous two instalments in The Erebus Sequence do not lack for action, the last entry ups the ante in terms of swordplay and chase sequences through Demesne’s vast, claustrophobic and hazardous interior. All of which drives the book to a high-stakes climax. All ramped up is the depiction of the horrific, malevolent monstrosities at the heart of the plot, giving the book a strong element of body-horror John Carpenter would be proud of. Staying true to the mantra of film sequels, in which ‘More, and darker,’ is demanded by the audience, this, the series finale, delivers on both counts.
If there is a slight quibble, it is that there was more value to be derived from some of the minor characters, particularly those outside of Demesne; several are nicely sketched but without full development–leaving open the hope that there might be opportunity for them to feature in side-quests/short stories in the future.
But all in all, The Girl on the Liar’s Throne knows what it is doing: it wraps up a trilogy by kicking into overdrive and never letting momentum drop, even in the reflective moments. A definitive denouement to well-crafted and entertaining series.