(Impossible Times #1)
Published By: 47 North
Release Date: 1 May 2019
Genre: Science Fiction / Coming of Age
Rating: 4.5 STARS
” In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week. Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next.”
I wasn’t prepared, either, for just how good this was going to be.
Mark Lawrence is an established and well-regarded Fantasy author. He is also a scientist. So it’s surprising that this is his first foray into Science Fiction. And he nails it in every area: the science, the characters, the action, the 80s nostalgia, and the real emotion the characters feel and the reader feels for them.
The science is about quantum physics, multiple realities and time travel. Lawrence deals with it by explaining briefly and competently and moving on to the story, which I like. This is not a “hard” science fiction novel – it’s character and plot-driven. Paradox, the perennial thorn of time travel narratives, is handled confidently and convincingly.
The character of Nick is masterfully written, right from the start. The scenes focusing on his cancer and his feelings about it read so truthfully that I felt he was someone I actually knew. Nick’s friends are all well-drawn and interesting in their own right. Apart from Nick, Elton and Simon were the stand-outs for me, but every reader will have their favourites.
When the novel moves into action, it is edge-of-seat kind of stuff and more genuinely frightening than I had expected. Despite the young protagonist, this is not a novel for children.There is violence and gore and some pretty disturbing incidents. And one character, named Rust, is going to stay with me much longer than I would like.
It is a nostalgic book, giving the kind of homage to an eighties childhood that we see in Stranger Things and even more in Ready Player One. There are references to Dungeons and Dragons, Commodore 64s, Back to the Future and plenty more. The Dungeons and Dragons sessions in this book are so engagingly written, I wouldn’t be surprised if they made some readers want to have a try themselves, no matter their age or previous level of disinterest. But whereas in Ready Player One, the nostalgia was the only reason for my enjoyment, there are so many more here.
Lawrence has woven three plot threads into One Word Kill and all are connected with the title in different ways: Nick’s cancer and hospital visits, his interactions with his friends, and the time travel aspect. Not only do all of these weave in and out of each other in a way that feels perfectly balanced, but each of them is equally interesting. That’s quite a feat. I never felt disappointed when the story moved from one aspect to another, and that’s a rare thing. Before I read this, I would have guessed that I would enjoy the sci-fi part of the story more than the part about Nick’s illness, but I would have been wrong.
Another joy: the whole novel is so beautifully written: Lawrence’s language is spare when it needs to be to carry the action, and the dialogue between the teenage characters feels authentic and spontaneous, but at other times Nick’s thoughts are almost poetic:
Because ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil’s fire.”
The novel ends in a very satisfying way and can be read as a stand-alone. But I am so glad that there are going to be two more in this series. I can’t wait to spend more time with Nick and his friends and see what happens next. There are plenty of possibilities from the threads Lawrence has started.
I could go on, but here’s the bottom line: go and buy One Word Kill. And buy a copy for your best friend too. They’ll thank you.
As for me, I’ll be getting my hands on the next book in the trilogy as soon as humanly possible.
A digital A.R.C. of this novel was supplied to me by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.