The Blurb On The Back:
Do not trust the Liar.
Do not go in the River.
Do not cross the King.
In Red Valley, California, you follow the rules if you want to stay alive. But even that isn’t enough to protect Sadie now that she’s unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets. In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.
And though the Liar has power – power to remake the world, with just a little blood – what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
19-year-old Sadie lives in Red Valley, California with her mum. Red Valley’s a town that’s slowly dying and Sadie is stuck working a dead-end job as a waitress in the local diner but her high school grades weren’t good enough to get to the nearest college and there’s nowhere else for her to go. Besides, Red Valley’s not a bad town. The King keeps them all safe plus her mum is the Liar, the keeper of the townsfolk’s secrets, and while people may not like her, it’s a position of power and no one messes with her.
Then Sadie’s mum dies suddenly from cancer – a cancer that she kept secret from Sadie – forcing Sadie to step up and become the Liar in her place. But although she knows the process – people wanting a lie to be told pay her mum a cash price and put their blood in the ledger that she writes the lie into – she has no idea how to access the powers needed for that lie to become true. Worse the ledgers that her mum kept – including the ledgers that belonged to all the Liars since Sadie’s ancestor, Mary Bell and which might explain to her what to do – have gone missing.
And Sadie’s not the only person looking for those journals. The King himself wants Sadie to find them and make sure she keeps them safe so that no one else can read them for reasons that she doesn’t understand. Nor does she understand why a Laughing Boy like Danny is so keen to find them (Laughing Boys are people who have chosen to let a demon live inside their head for the natural high it gives them, but whose presence results in the sound of laughter constantly accompanying them – right up until the demon decides it’s not having fun anymore). But she does understand Undersheriff Hassler’s motives – he’s running for Sheriff in November on a law and order ticket and thinks there’s something inside the ledgers that will enable him to get rid of the King for good.
With the help of her best friend Graciela, Graciela’s girlfriend Ashleigh and Graciela’s eldest brother Beto (who can speak with and summon the spirits of the dead), Sadie sets about tracking down the ledgers. But it’s not long before she learns that in a town filled with secrets, speaking the truth to the wrong person can unleash all kinds of consequences – consequences that could be fatal to Sadie and destructive to the whole town …
Walter Goodwater’s contemporary fantasy novel is a slickly plotted, vividly imagined affair about power, authority and belonging and has a well realised main character who I rooted for. The world building works very well and I loved the way he incorporates his fantasy elements but the ending was, for me, slightly anti climactical given the events building up to it. Still there is scope here for a sequel, which I would definitely read.
I’m going to start by saying that the structure of this book is just so good. Goodwater is in complete control of the story that he wants to tell, the beats he wants to hit in telling it and the location of a number of devastating reveals (the set ups for which are very clever and well seeded such that this is a book that merits a second reading to pick up on all of them). Coupled with that is a very well executed tight third person voice that puts the reader firmly on Sadie’s shoulder for the vast majority of it (there are some brief digressions into other character’s points of view for plot reasons) as she has to come to terms first with her mum’s unexpected death and then the ramifications of what being the Liar means and how important it is to find those ledgers.
Also really well done is how Goodwater brings in the fantasy elements to the story, feeding them through in a way that never feels like an exposition dump and which maintains the pace of the plot. It’s a difficult skill to learn and I think that this is a masterclass in how to do it well not least because while Goodwater gives you enough information to follow the story, he also leaves enough mystery there to maintain the reader’s interest. For example, I’d love to know how the King selected his King’s Men (known to the locals as mirroreyes thanks to the sunglasses they always wear) and I wanted to know more about the relationship between Thomas and Charles, who live in a house that can slip out of time as there’s clearly some secret there with Charles’s health.
There’s a believable sense of menace throughout the book – not just because of the danger that Sadie finds herself in but because of the threats within and around the town itself, including the very River, which takes those who seek to swim in it and never gives them back. But it’s not just the supernatural that contains threats – Hassler is an all-too-human antagonist to Sadie, ambitious and authoritarian he sees himself as the real protector of the people of Red Valley and doesn’t mind how many of them he has to hurt in order to prove that. One of my few quibbles with the book is that as a Brit, I don’t really understand what an Undersheriff is so a one line explanation of that would have been very helpful to me. In addition, given that the actual Sheriff never makes an appearance in the book, from a narrative point of view I had to wonder why Goodwater didn’t just make Hassler the actual sheriff and have him stand for re-election because I think that would have given his rivalry to the King a bit more oomph.
The other quibble I had with the book is that the finale was a bit of an anti climax for me. Given how high the stakes are (and I couldn’t help reading the scenes where Red Valley is slowly being consumed by fire without thinking of the recent Californian wild fires) and how vast and powerful the hordes gathered around it are, the way all that plays out was almost perfunctory. While I take it for granted in a book of this type that somehow good will find a way to triumph, I wanted to see slightly more struggle than what we get even allowing for the fact that Sadie is more an organiser and motivator for the town than its actual saviour.
With regards to Sadie, I thought she was a well realised character from the start. I believed in her antagonistic relationship with her mother as much as I empathised with her grief at her mum’s death and her frustration at the lack of relationship she has with her deadbeat father Brian. I thoroughly enjoyed the way how she’s used to explain Red Valley and its inhabitants to the reader and I completely believed in her friendship with Graciela (and I especially welcomed the jealousy that Sadie felt at Graciela’s relationship with Ashleigh and how the friendship isn’t all smiles and plain sailing). Sadie’s also smart enough to know when she’s mouthing off to the wrong people at the wrong time but brave enough to keep doing it anyway because she knows it’s the right thing to do.
My quibbles aside, the way Goodwater ends the book certainly seems to leave the book open for a sequel – if not following Sadie then certainly following one of the other characters we have met (cough – Beto – cough) and I would definitely buy that book. Should a sequel not be forthcoming (and totally understand if it isn’t), I will make a point of checking out whatever Goodwater does write next.
THE LIAR OF RED VALLEY by Walter Goodwater will be released in the United States on 28 September 2021 and in the United Kingdom on 30th September. Thanks to Rebellion Publishing for the review copy of this book.