Review: One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1) by Mark Lawrence

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. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help —now. He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics. Challenge accepted.

Firstly I want to start by saying what a huge pleasure it is hearing Mark speak in such a different voice. I’ve read and loved all his books but this series opener was like a gifted musician revealing that he knows yet another instrument and pulling out one of those guitars that is actually two guitars and it is fluorescent purple and electric. I was constantly surprised, in awe and impressed.

One Word Kill is being described as Ready Player One meets Stranger Things (and I’d also chuck some Terminator and Butterfly Effect in there too) so readers have some clues as to what might be coming as we explore the lives of some random teenagers growing up in the 80’s. Alternate realities, inter-dimensional bubbles, time travel and way more are all up for grabs but don’t be too intimidated. Lawrence’s physics background and skill as a writer ensures everything is grounded within a reality we mere mortals can comprehend. I don’t generally expect to pick up complex scientific concepts instantly and neither should you so I recommend you sit back and let it flow. I enjoyed the moments where I had to reread something because it was often a case of just working through the logic of a particularly mind bending piece of action and I never had to just give up and move on.

The characters are unique without being tropes and Nick, Elton, Mia, John and Simon all bring something different to the party. Elton is the Dungeon Master and someone who seems to live the game not just orchestrate it. Simon is the least brave of the group generally choosing to run instead of fight but is a true friend when it counts, Mia provides the boys with a level of trust and acceptance they had probably never experienced from the opposite sex and shows a commitment to the game that rivals anything the group has seen before. John is a nice guy living on the wealthier side of things with a racist mum and a secret or two of his own and Nick is obviously our protagonist and we experience the events of the book from his perspective. They are a good mix and by the end of the book I felt invested in their lives and wanted to read on not to just see how the plot would continue to unfold but to see what happened to each of them as individuals.

The D&D sequences in particular were brilliant fun. Mark did a great job at making the character of Elton a superbly talented storyteller and he’s the sort of dungeon master that would make someone like myself, who has never played RPG’s, excited to give them a go. Yeah I know we all want Mark Lawrence to be our dungeon master but I asked first and he don’t travel. It is pretty epic that he managed to slot some really amazing fantasy sequences into this already sensational science fiction adventure.

One World Kill is more YA than anything of his I’ve read before but doesn’t shy away from very adult concepts especially when it comes to the realities of living with cancer and chemotherapy. I think younger readers will appreciate that they are not being molly coddled through some tough sequences as though there is some adult exclusivity on being sick. It’s light on the 80’s shout-outs, which I really appreciated. You know where and when you are from the authenticity of the dialogue and the surrounding elements not because someone is constantly dropping pop culture references but simply because it sounds natural. The conversations and moments between the different characters are always revealing, always moving the story forward and at only a couple of hundred pages it’s fair to say this book absolutely rockets along.

Overall I feel One Word Kill is the start of something very special and will not only give Mark’s legions of fans something they’ve never had from him before but also introduce him to a new more science fiction inclined generation. As a fan of both I felt like Charlie in the chocolate factory, which would make Lawrence Willy Wonka.

It’s a wild and riveting ride and we have a master craftsman at the wheel.

10/10

One Word Kill is published by 47North and is coming out on May 1st. It will be followed very quickly by Limited Wish in June, with the final book in the series slated for release before the end of 2019.

Featured Review