Goldie Roth is a trained thief and a skilled liar. Along with her friend Toadspit, she’s supposed to be one of the Keepers of the mysterious Museum of Dunt. But although she desperately wants to be a Keeper, she will not leave her sick parents to do so.
But when Toadspit’s sister Bonnie is stolen, he and Goldie are forced to follow the child-stealers to the neighboring city of Spoke. Along the way, Toadspit too is captured, and Goldie is caught up in the Festival of Lies, where every word she says means something else and no one can be trusted. There, Goldie discovers some dangerous secrets—secrets that the child-stealers will kill to protect. She will need all her skills as a thief and a liar if she is to survive and save her friends.
You can read an excerpt here.
I hate not being able to like a book as much as I want to. I adored Lian Tanner’s debut, Museum of Thieves, and was raring to read the second installment of her trilogy, but sadly City of Lies falls far short of the bar Tanner set with her first book.
Museum of Thieves was a fantastic blend of fantasy and dystopia, with a society ruled by fear, a magical museum with deadly secrets, and a girl who had to break with everything she’d been taught to save the day. City of Lies is essentially the story of that same girl learning to trust who she has become, but sadly neither the character work nor the world building entirely worked for me this time around. There were some interesting ideas buried within this book, but they never managed to come into focus.
First off, the idea of a place where mysterious magic appears once a year to float around in a cloud for the duration of a festival – that premise never really worked for me. Mysterious, deadly magic trapped in a museum, I get – a random cloud of magic that only works to makes lies real (if you’re lucky enough to “catch” it) for a short time, and yet somehow is made of the same kind of magic that the museum contains… I just didn’t buy it. On top of which, while the museum was absolutely vital to Goldie’s evolution as a character, the festival really isn’t. It’s part window dressing, part plot convenience, and it doesn’t ever come together in a meaningful way. And yet, there was still something about it all that did catch my eye – there’s something fun in the idea of magic that can make you live your lie, and Tanner builds a lot of colors into her street vendors and festival costumes and the shapes of the many lies. There was a real air of originality to it all, but it just didn’t entirely work.
Sadly the character development didn’t work for me either. I generally understand what Tanner was going for, i.e. taking Goldie far away from everything she knew so as to allow her to test herself and discover who she really is, but the intent was never realized. Goldie’s crises, in having to choose between her parents and becoming a Keeper, was rather contrived from the start, and then Goldie, whose trusty inner voice saved her time and again in the first book, proceeds to petulantly ignore that very same voice, and in doing so stumbles into trouble again and again. You’d think such repeated proof that she was being an idiot would clue her in, but sadly, it didn’t. Goldie instead only comes to her self-realization at the hands of a rather painfully contrived magical MacGuffin, and voila, she suddenly knows who she is. Honestly, her arc just wasn’t there. And yet, I did like the intent – there was a sweet idea about being true to ourselves buried somewhere in there – it just never came to fruition.
There was also the matter of this book not really building on the events of the first in any meaningful way. Aside from Godlie and Toadspit, all the characters of the first book essentially only get cameos in this one – and frankly, I missed them – and the plot has only the slimmest of bearings on past and future events, and that tiny trickle of continuity is entirely predictable (and somewhat repetitive). This story really had nothing to add to the mythology of the first book – instead it felt more like a trip down a side alley before we return to the main story.
On top of which, the ending of this book really and truly irked me. The magical MacGuffin was just so ridiculously convenient that I couldn’t help but choke on it. I truly hope it all turns out to have some bearing on the next book so as to make it somehow worthwhile, but as for this story, it was just a huge cheat. And while I do appreciate the sheer inventiveness of the idea, that wasn’t enough for me to forgive the randomness of it all.
And so I arrived at the end of this book feeling rather disgruntled. That there were glimmerings of true potential to this story only made it all the more disappointing – and yet, and yet, there is still something about Tanner’s writing that I truly enjoy. This could have been a ridiculously familiar story – kids on their own, living on the streets, trying to take down treacherous adults – and yet Tanner made it entirely fresh and unique, entirely her own. I really do just like Tanner’s style.
In the end, I have to call City of Lies a stumble, and yet there is still something undeniably intriguing about the way Tanner brings being “caught in a lie” into being. And while I may not be happy with this story, I still will definitely be back for the next book.
Byrt Grade: B
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
The second title in Tanner’s Keepers Trilogy delivers a fantasy as thickly plotted as but less successful than Museum of Thieves (2010)…the clunky Festival of Lies can’t hold a candle to the alluring tumult of the magical Museum. Muddy, if often riveting.
In addition to sorting out who she should and will be and whether the voice is worth listening to, Goldie must also navigate a strange city amidst their Festival of Lies where everything is turned inside out and upside down. How does one tell a lie in order to find the truth, and how does one find the already hidden when everything is to be masked?…If you like Frances Hardinge or Adrienne Kress, you will like Ms. Tanner’s The Keepers books (and vice versa).