Welcome to September, goblins! Yesterday was publication day for one of the prettiest books of 2019, Alexandra Rowland’s A CHOIR OF LIES, which I was so happy to get my hands on an arc copy of. To celebrate, I’m bringing you all my review. Trust me, you’re going to want this one on your TBR.
Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.
That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?
This is a gem of a book full of grit-teeth, open-eyed hope in humans’ ability to pull themselves up off the ground and do the right thing, even when the chips are down. It’s also full of snarky storytelling rap battles, tulip mania, whirling auction houses, lies that catch fire and almost take the teller down with them, and some grade A flirting. I’m so pleased to have gotten an ARC for review.
I loved so much about this book. I loved the slow unraveling of half-forgotten myths, the stories from faraway places dispersed throughout, the crowded canal city where our sweet, sensitive protagonist Ylfing finds himself living. Tender, introspection male protagonists are in short supply in any genre, but Ylfing is so wonderful and richly drawn. The strong, vibrant, morally complex middle aged women he finds himself surrounded by gave me life, and I fell in love with his problematic, smooth-talking, hedonist beau.
I’m not usually a fan of second world fantasy; one look at a string of fantasy place names and proper nouns and my eyes start to glaze over. But Rowland has pulled off a very clever magic trick here in making a complex, detailed fantasy world feel cozy and folkloric. They do this by feeding the audience world-building in tiny, tasty bites, like they’re guiding us through a cheese plate. A lot of people have already talked about the metatextual elements of this book (we have footnotes from an annotator reading the memoir of our protagonist about events they both experienced! your faves could NEVER!) but even those clever moments of commentary insertion feel naturalistic, effortless. Hell, Rowland can even make economic commentary RIVETING. Want to see how bubble economies are hatched, nurtured, and then grow big enough to threaten the safety of entire merchant city-states? Yes, you do. Trust me.
This is a book that takes you by the hand and spins you a yarn that grows bigger and wilder than you can ever imagine, but you don’t want to pull your hand away, not even for a second, because you trust somehow that you want to end up on the other side of wherever it’s going. I can’t recommend it highly enough.