Mark Lawrence, One Word Kill (2019)

One Word Kill

Author: Mark Lawrence

Title: One Word Kill

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 204

One Word Kill, the first installment in the Impossible Times sequence and Lawrence’s first foray into a SF territory, came on the heels of his success with Book of Ancestor trilogy.  The book met with enthusiastic reviews and has been recommended by many fellow bloggers – Mogsy, Aaron and Drew, to name just a few. As I haven’t read anything by Lawrence, One Word Kill was suggested to me as a good entry point – and by now I can firmly attest to the popular conviction that Lawrence knows how to write. His writing skills are a thing to behold, especially in such a short novel as One Word Kill, where every word counts. It’s a mark of professionalism to spin an intriguing story, build a convincing world and create compelling characters within a couple hundred pages. As much as I would love to wholeheartedly recommend the book, however, I can’t. To borrow Bookstooge’s latest food metaphor, One Word Kill reminded me mostly of a solid fast food meal: it had all the necessary ingredients, maybe even chosen with care for their environmental impact and health benefits, it was very professionally made and quite substantial, but by no means was it a masterpiece or a sensory delight.

Firstly, I was thrown by the strong Stranger Things vibe. At times One Word Kill resembled nothing more than a highly ambitious attempt at Stranger Things fan fiction – from the nostalgic 80’s setting to the four-teenage-friends-plus-a-girl ensemble, to the D&D games as an important plot device. And as much as I enjoy Stranger Things, I didn’t really feel a need to read about it. Yes, the main characters are different, and their story is different, yet the Stranger Things influence runs strong throughout the whole book.

Then came the time travel twist. Yes, Lawrence did his homework and presented a neat exposition of the multiverse theory and the possibility of time travel in infinite realities branching out from every decision. While I’d jadedly argue that Pratchett’s explanation under the lovely title Trousers of Time is so much more fun…

Trousers of Time

…I’d still be all aboard with Lawrence’s application – if not for Ethan Siegel’s explanation of the phenomenon, which can be found here. Interestingly, currently the popular theories on time travel rather seem to indicate that the universe we’d land in would not be the one from which we started out in the first place, exactly because of the bifurcating time lines. And so, because my dreams had been shattered these few years ago when I read that :P, I couldn’t really buy into what Lawrence presented as a viable, for-real-real option – especially because the rest of his lovingly constructed world seemed like a reminiscence and not something entirely imagined.

Lastly, the characters. I could not shake the feeling that the main protagonist was in fact a character perfectly depicting how a 40-something would remember himself as a teenager those few decades past. Nick just didn’t feel like a fifteen-year-old would, mathematical genius or not. It wasn’t just a precocity characterizing someone particularly gifted, even with a cancer undoubtedly changing the optic; the vocabulary Nick used and the unusually introspective remarks he was making brought to my mind someone much older than 15. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy his point of view; only that the difference between my expectations and what One Word Kill was giving me in this regard was big enough to keep me firmly distanced from the world so carefully built by Lawrence.

While Nick and Mia are given a lot of book time and their development forms the emotional backbone of the book, the rest of characters sadly did not have that privilege. Sadly, because I would like to read more about Simon and Elton and John, yet it is completely understandable both from the perspective of room given by a novel 200-odd pages-long, and from the assumed perspective of a naturally self-absorbed teenager who narrates it. Indeed, it felt quite right: Nick’s friends were the constant, most important element of his life. What I did find lacking, however, were the villains of the piece – especially Rust, whose description as someone who “doesn’t know where to stop” and ends up murdering people with cold blood because he enjoys it, while still being a fifteen-year-old recently expelled from a posh school, seemed forced and unreal. While Davies was still within the borders as a violent, slightly misguided bully, Rust was so blown out of proportion as the book’s psycho that he almost seemed like an imagined threat – and hence, not one to treat seriously.

Add to it the MacGuffin problem of Motorola chip necessary to power a memory retention/erase device. That one was really hard to get on board with, and so felt more as a regrettably necessary prop than a crucial element of the plot – a bunch of teenagers breaking and entering into a high-tech Motorola facility and stealing a prototype worth millions was indeed a plot worth the eighties, like the referenced War Games movie, but it seemed out of sync with the rather realistic rest of the worldbuilding, cancer and drugs, posh British schools and all. Yes, I know, a bit of readers’ goodwill is necessary for most of fantasy/SF plots to work. Yet my goodwill was slowly eroding as the elements kept adding up – the final straw might have been the D&D device of foretelling the events of the plot through the events of the game. The whole narrative felt increasingly contrived, and as a result I approached the novel’s ending more with relief that it ends than any tension involved in the resolution. Don’t get me wrong; I quite enjoyed it, as I enjoy a good fast food wrap from time to time. It was tasty, it was quick, most importantly, it was painless. No indigestion, no regrets, and I even might reach for another one of those in the foreseeable future 😉 It was ok. Just ok. Not spectacular :P.

Score: 7/10

29 thoughts on “Mark Lawrence, One Word Kill (2019)

  1. Au contraire!

    I will have you know that Burger King’s “The Whopper” IS a masterpiece worthy of Gordon Ramsey or even Emeril. So….BAM!

    80’s nostalgia seems to be taking over. A little bit is fine, but I’m seeing it everywhere, sigh. And so far I’ve got nothing good to say about Lawrence, so this review doesn’t bend my nose out of shape at all 🙂

    Do you think you’ll read any of the sequels?

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL! I am not a fan of fast food, as you probably noticed – but your post on burger rating was so inspiring! 😀

      Yeah, I’m with you on that. I’m fond of the 80’s as anyone else who can actually remember that time 😉 but there is so much I can read and see and still consider it fresh 😉 As for Lawrence, after this one book I can safely say he’s a professional; but for me, more of an artificer than artist…

      I might actually read them, they do not constitute a huge time investment, and maybe the schematic plot of the first one was more an effect of little space and lots worldbuilding/character development than an intended effect… I’m willing to grant Lawrence some benefit of doubt. And now excuse me, I need to go and find your post on burgers and link it! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I think of the 80’s, I think of people sniffing cocaine off of $100 bills. Considering I was in my young years and tweens, I wasn’t doing that, obviously 😉

        Star Wars and Cocaine, that’s the 80’s boiled down to it’s basic components in my mind!

        Liked by 1 person

        • See? Even though you were raised then, your vision of the eighties is totally skewed by the pop-culture 😛 I think the first ever mention of cocaine I heard was in Clapton’s song… And then in the classic B 80’s movies like Tango & Cash 😀

          Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s say it’s one not overly much recommended 😉 Not bad, quite entertaining, and short (which in case of so-so books is a factor in their favor ;)), but definitely not a necessary read – particularly when considering how many better books there are 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, I remember deciding that Lawrence’s original trilogy is too dark and grim for me, and as a result I never actually read any of his book. Seems this isn’t going to be the first, even if it wasn’t terrible…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heh, I know I shouldn’t judge the author by one book, but right now I am not overly willing to read his other series – I have a strong impression of him being an artificer, not an artist, and while professionalism is always highly commendable and something I truly admire, these days it’s simply not enough for me, I’m afraid 😉 Too many better books out there!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Too many better books out there for sure! This was a really good, thoughtful review, for which a big thank you – I don’t want to miss reading something awesome while my nose is stuck in something that’s just OK. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, and you’re very welcome! 😀

      I tried to be fair to this book; it really wasn’t bad, but the hype surrounding it indicated that it was great, and even though I know to take this kind of thing with a huge helping of salt (a grain is not nearly enough ;)) I still was a bit underwhelmed. It helps that it’s short, though! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I thought you were perfectly fair. And when there’s a lot of hype about a book I find it comforting to read something a bit more balanced … puts the world back into perspective! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks! Much appreciated 🙂 I tend to be wary of hyped books, because they so rarely live up to the hype – not by any fault of authors, I’d say, but more due to overblown expectations fueled by the reviews – and so I usually try to balance this view a bit. Glad I succeeded with this one! 😀

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I too might not be too pleased in finding resemblances with Stranger Things when I get around to reading this. But hopefully, the story makes you overlook the resemblances. Do you plan on checking out any of Mark Lawrence’s novels though? Or will you let this novella trilogy decide if you continue or not into Lawrence’s books?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That it does, it’s well written though I struggled with suspending my disbelief in the story – and ultimately failed.
      I hear you (both the part you actually say and the one you just hint at ;)) and I know I should probably check out at least one of his fantasy books before I make a final decision whether Lawrence is an author for me or not – but at the moment I’m more in a ‘meh’ mood when it comes to his writing, so it will take some time before I actually reach out for one of his other books. Would you have a recommendation for me? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. There was an illogical loophole though. The main protagonist is a witness narrator who wants to influence the future by erasing some events of his memory. But what with his friends and girlfriend? He also keeps narrating as if the whole process didn’t happen to him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, you’re right. I didn’t want to thrash the novel any more, and besides I don’t remember ever reading or watching a time travel concept that would be without logical loopholes. At the end of One Word Kill it seems that only Nick and Mia don’t remember what happened, and maybe that’s what creates the division between them and their friends. What irked me more though was the fact that they supposedly had to erase their memories – the logic in that was very flimsy indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

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