Rook & Rose, #2: The Liar’s Knot
By: M.A. Carrick Audiobook: 23 hours 14 minutes
Published: December 9, 2021 Narrated by: Nikki Massoud
This was her true home, the place where she and Tess had launched this con. The one place in Nadežra where she could be herself: not Alta Renata Viraudax Traementatis, nor even Arenza Lenskaya, the Vraszenian pattern-reader who came closer to the truth of who she was, but ‘Ren.’ A river rat born and raised in the Lacewater slums, trained in the arts of lying and thieving after her mother died, (1: The Face of Gold: Isla Prišta, Westbridge: Fellun 15).
Frequent readers and literary critics are familiar with “middle book syndrome.” This occurs in a series (most common in trilogies) when the “middle” book falls short either and/or both on the plot and on the pacing; there an argument can be made of the character development falling short, too. Instead, the “middle book” contains plot devices and elements of world-building as a “set-up” for the “last” book (or, books) in the series. Due to this “common occurrence,” there are times when the audience becomes skeptical of the “middle book.” Yet, this occurrence continues to happen. However, in The Liar’s Knot—the second book in the Rook & Rose trilogy—by M.A. Carrick (a.k.a. Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms) the audience has nothing to fear because everything they loved about the first book—The Mask of Mirrors—is in the sequel with even more twists and revelations.
The audience is reunited with the protagonists: Ren—the con artist, Derossi Vargo—the gangster, and Captain Grey Serrado—the vigilante. A short amount of time has passed since the events in the first book. And, while things are looking up for all 3 of them, each protagonist continues to wrestle with their inner conflicts. Ren is about to be adopted into House Traementis, but she’s juggling more aliases than she can handle. Vargo has been elevated to the status of a nobleman, but not everyone in Nadežra is happy about it. Captain Serrado has a lead on the person responsible for Kolya’s—his brother’s—death, but he has to deal with the continuing corruption of the Vigil— Nadežra’s police force—from the inside and the outside. In addition to the protagonists’ dilemmas, new ones arise which force all 3 of them to rely on their wits and their alter egos as they find themselves being drawn into the heart of Nadežra’s lies and corruptions. Each protagonist strives to survive the trials while they try to maintain their sanity and their identity. Once again, all 3 protagonists find themselves drawn together again in order to fight against the dark forces who want complete domination over Nadežra.
In addition to the protagonists, the other main characters have larger roles in this narrative. Ren continues to seek guidance and companionship from Tess, Sedge, and Giuna Traementis—her sister, her brother, and her “cousin,” respectively. Tess’ goals of owning her own dress shop is within reach, and she continues to help Ren with all of her ploys. Sedge continues his work amongst the Knots in Nadežra and reports on whatever news he and his sisters can use. Giuna has been growing into her role as the Heir of House Traementis. This means taking on more responsibilities from her “cousin,” Renata, and her mother, Era Donaia Traementis, and protecting the resurgence of her family. Vargo’s spider continues to accompany him just about everywhere; and, Vargo forms an alliance with Arkady Bones—the 12-year-old Knot boss of the Shambles. He provides a place of safety for Arkady and the other street orphans, and she “works” for him by giving him any and all of the information he needs. Captain Serrado speaks with his mentor, Oksana Ryvcek—a duelist, about the ongoings within Nadežra and discussing ways to end it once and for all. The audience learns more about The Rook, their origins, and their “ultimate” goal. The Rook lives by a code, but will they maintain it or ignore it in order to finalize their purpose?
All of the main characters develop alongside the protagonists; and, whether or not they know it, all of them are linked to Nadežra’s web of corruption. Each main character develops without having to interact with the protagonists because it becomes clear each one is its own agent within the narrative. Not to mention, the protagonists cannot do everything by themselves.
There are 4 plots in this novel, and at least 1 protagonist and 1 main character are involved in at least 1 of them. The first plot focuses on Ren’s many aliases. Not only must Ren stay ahead of anyone who wishes to expose her (truth and lies), but also protect both of her families from harm, especially since she still feels guilty about what happened to Leato Traementis. Even if that means joining a secret organization to do so, then she will do it. The second plot delves into Vargo who is now a nobleman, which turns out was the next step in his elaborate plan. Alongside his “unknown” mentor, Vargo accepts an invitation to join the Illius Praeteri—a secret organization who “controls” the “business” within Nadežra. Vargo hopes passing initiation will bring him closer to 2 of his other goals: vengeance and understanding Numinatria. However, Vargo is not the only initiate there; hopefully, his plans won’t go astray. The third plot investigates Captain Serrado. He is reeling from what he learned about his brother’s death. Unfortunately, his job keeps him occupied due to the squabbles amongst the noble houses, and the rise of a new police force in which a previous foe has joined up with them. Captain Serrado begins to question whether or not The Rook has the right method for acting alone. The last plot goes into The Rook’s actions and goals. Are there additional reasons for the hooded vigilante’s actions? Why is The Rook interested in what Ren, Vargo, and Captain Serrado are doing? Will any of those 3 individuals learn about The Rook’s true motives, or their identity? There are 2 subplots which develop alongside the plots in this narrative. The first subplot focuses on the Nobility of Nadežra. While it does seem that recent and current events revolve around the noble families, some are getting more (unwanted) attention than the others. Is there a difference amongst 1 group of nobles from the other ones? The second subplot delves into Numinatria. Ren is a pattern-reader and Vargo’s knowledge of the magic system puts him as an advantage over other Numinatria users. Not to mention, it seems The Rook knows about it as well. There is A LOT happening in this narrative, but the audience won’t feel lost or confused by the plots and the subplots.
The narrative is presented in 3rd person limited from the points-of-view of Ren, Vargo, and Captain Serrado, and from the P.O.V.s of Tess, Sedge, Giuna, and The Rook. That’s right, there are more P.O.V. chapters in this narrative, but the audience gains a complete perspective of what’s happening in Nadežra from each character—who represents a different faction within this city—from their streams-of-consciousness. With the exception of The Prologue, all of the chapters are told in real-time in the present. Because the audience knows the emotions and the actions of all of these characters, they are left to believe each one of them is a reliable narrator with narratives that can be followed easily.
The style M.A. Carrick uses for The Liar’s Knot continues from where they left off in The Mask of Mirrors. This time, the mystery and the world-building play a larger role in this fantasy book. In addition, the audience learns that the magic in this world cannot be used by just anyone. Not to mention, the focus on the noble families has the narrative evolving into one of political intrigue, which could be what the author(s) are aiming for. Another emphasis is placed on identity and on aliases. Each protagonist hides behind another persona, but they are willing to let go some of their secrets in order to open themselves up to the other characters. Yet, it’s better to stick with 1 identity. The mood in this novel is secretive. It isn’t only the characters who have secrets; the many secrets about Nadežra are about to be revealed. The tone in this novel is evasion. As each character gets closer to achieving their goals, they find themselves evading the lies instead of the truth. Just in case the audience loses track of who is who, there is a Dramatis Personae, a recap, a note on pronunciations, and a glossary within this book.
The appeal for The Liar’s Knot have been positive. In fact, the reviews both on Amazon and on Goodreads rate this book higher than The Mask of Mirrors. It is not uncommon for a sequel to earn more praise than its predecessor (i.e. The Empire Strikes Back, The Godfather: Part II), it is unusual for the sequel to have more acclaim amongst the audience and the critics. Due to the emphasis on the magic system, the world-building, and the political intrigue in this book, I’m going to recommend this series to readers and to fans of The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings by Nick Martell and The Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. Once again, I listened to the audiobook, and Nikki Massoud was the narrator. Her performance and her pronunciation of the words made the narrative easy to follow along and to keep track of everything that is happening in the story. As of the publication of this review, both the title and the impending release date for Book 3 has been announced. Labyrinth’s Heart—the 3rd and final book in Rook & Rose—will be released in August 2023. It’s going to be epic.
The Liar’s Knot is a brilliant sequel which delves into character development, world-building, magic, and conflicts. The revelations in this book are as shocking as the ones in this first book. This book does not suffer from “middle book syndrome,” but the audience will have to suffer a lengthy waiting period for this series’ conclusion.
My Rating: MUST READ IT NOW (5 out of 5)!!!