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

9/10 An exceptional narrative featuring time travel that's cleverly composed and thoroughly thrillingly.

"Ugliness multiplies, and hurt spills over into hurt, and sometimes good things are just the fuel for evil's fire"

I received an uncorrected proof copy of One Word Kill in exchange for an honest review. I would like to thank Mark Lawrence and 47North for approaching me to read this early. 

On the 8th January 1986, Nick Hayes, a gangly 15-year-old who is extremely intelligent is diagnosed with leukaemia. The doctors advise that he may only have up to 5 years to live. In the local hospital, he goes through Chemotherapy and shares a children's ward with many other suffering youths as they weaken and essentially fade from health and normality. He has to visit the hospital weekly yet when he is not there he is living the life of a normalish geeky teenager. Going to school, dealing with bullies, scared to talk to girls but what he looks forward to the most is the weekly D&D meet-ups he has with his best friends. They can forget about the monotony and hardships real-life presents and lose themselves in a fantastical adventure where their imagination is the only limitation. When he is playing, even Nick forgets about what ails him. It all seems pretty straightforward until intense deja-vu affects the protagonist, a shadowy stranger starts stalking him, certain events that happen in their sessions are scarily close to some real-life events and what's even scarier than all is that a young lady has joined the group's D&D party! 

It's no secret that in my humble opinion Mark Lawrence is one of the finest and most consistent fantasy authors currently writing. By profession, Lawrence is actually a scientist so it seemed like only a matter of time before he made the foray into the science fiction genre. This is completely unlike anything Lawrence has published before. This isn't like any science fiction stories I've read previously and for all the elements of time travel, parallel universes, complex mathematics and quantum mechanics, it features drug dealers, local psychopaths and the D&D group trying to learn how to dance to impress the ladies. It's a peculiar mix but I'm happy to say it works expertly. 

The story is presented through Nick's first-person perspective and he is a very likeable character who is a joy to follow. The accompanying cast is surprisingly deep and well fleshed out to say that this is quite a short book. I'd estimate it's approximately 90,000 words. In addition to Nick, My favourite characters were Mia, the goth girl who joins the boys' games, Elton, who adores his kung-fu practising, and John, the cool dude who loves D&D but doesn't mention it to any of his school friends. Also, a character called Demus who I will say nothing about but who is hugely important and influential to the overall narrative and progression of the tale. 

It is difficult to summarise and this probably won't be accurate enough but this is the best I can come up with. This seemed like a mix of Stranger Things, Donnie Darko, the Xbox game Alan Wake mixed with the youthful antics and awkwardness seen in comedy shows The Inbetweeners and The Big Bang Theory. Some of the scientific language written does come across occasionally as confusing and very hi-tech and knowing Mark's profession I imagine it's all legit and accurate. Although the story is complex, multi-layered, unpredictable and ultimately enduring it wasn't too difficult for me to follow as Lawrence is an excellent writer. The writing is sometimes intoxicating and addictive however surreal and bizarre certain events may be and I loved the humourous flow and banter between the friends. Mark's prose is poetic and sometimes, in a good way, hypnotising. I read One Word Kill within 24 hours and it was all I could think about to the extent where I dreamt about the shadowy character who stalks Nick! 

The world building is admirable whether describing the suburbs in London, a friend's council flat or describing the London underground service. There are lots of brilliant references to the mid-80's such as the fact Back to the Future had just been released, kids play on their Commodore 64's and that everyone believes Hoverboards will be the obvious invention that the future will present. I really enjoyed, and I bet Mark enjoyed writing the descriptions of the D&D ventures. These sections are closer to what he has written before but with more humour, teenagers innocence and tropes including typical creatures like orcs, vampires, mages, clerics, warriors that will probably prompt a sense of nostalgia for his readers and the target audience. I regret that I've never played D&D. :(  

This is not released until April 2019 but already in August 2018, this is one of the finest uncorrected proofs I have ever read. I did not notice a single error which is exceptional and shows the hard work Mark, Agnes and 47North have put into this tale. This works perfectly as a standalone. The ending is absolutely spectacular and wraps everything up perfectly. I loved the setting, the protagonist, the characters including the supporting and very minor players, the thrills and spills and emotions. To be honest, the very minor and possible negative that I have is that some of the terminologies threw me off balance very occasionally. 47North enjoyed this book so much they asked Lawrence to turn it into a trilogy of which all the books will be released in 2019. A note to his current fans, although a few scenes are dark and gruesome this is very different to his previous works. An exceptional adventure featuring time travel, a gang of geeks that's cleverly composed, thrilling and will hopefully aid Lawrence's to rise to the top of the game in another genre. I loved it.  9.1 / 10

-- James Tivendale

My one line review:

"I clapped after reading the last line. Don’t know if that’s ever happened before."

I'm content to leave this review as simple as that, but I owe it to NetGalley and other potential readers to provide a bit more information. I do think it's best that you go into this story completely blind -- Mark Lawrence has earned enough trust where I don't have to read an advance blurb to know that his stories are'worth reading. That being said, I'll provide a few minor plot spoilers below, and try to only touch on overall themes, instead of major plot points.

The story is set in London during the 1980's, and focuses on unpopular teenager Nick who was just diagonsed with leukemia. Nick has a small group of friends that meet on weekends for Dungeons and Dragons, and we get to experience some wonderful role-playing sessions with some talented players. (I was especially nostalgic during these scenes, as I spent many a weekend in a similar position.). Nick and some other members of his group have exceptionally brilliant minds -- one has a brain that can solve computations in seconds, while Nick himself is a student of advanced quantum theory. Somehow, Lawrence combines cancer, D&D, and quantum mechanics into a complex story that highlights the bonds of friendship, pushes the boundaries of physics, and is also somehow a sweet and heart-wrenching love story. (Go ahead and pre-order now, I'll wait.)

Lawrence has some wonderful tricks up his sleeve that underlines his exceptional writing talent. There's a jaw-dropping reveal on page one that stuck in the back of my mind throughout the entire book, and how that revelation comes to fruition is as sneaky and unexpected as it is brilliant. The book isn't that long, and its pace invites the reader to fly through it in very few reading sessions. I encourage you to try and savor it for as long as possible, as it is over much too soon. Although it is the start of a trilogy, there is a definitive and wonderfully satisfying ending. (It also offers some sound and applicable life advice, which has had me smiling ever since.)

Great characters. Unique story. A setting that takes full advantage of what it has to offer, and a memorable ending that left me waiting impatiently for the next entry. This story is (quite literally) filled with infinite possibilities, and I'm damn excited to see what else Lawrence has in store. 9.1 / 10

-- Adam Weller

I’ve meant to read Mark Lawrence’s novels for quite some time. Other things have always crowded out his titles on my TBR, for whatever reason, however. But One Word Kill sounded like exactly the sort of story I love. A sci-fi tale involving quantum mechanics, healthy doses of D&D, and an amazing group of characters? Count me in any day of the week.

I don’t want to spoil anything from this amazing novel, so I’ll basically just restate the blurb from the back of the book. Nick Hayes, our protagonist, has just discovered that he has cancer. This means massive change to his fifteen-year-old life, but those changes are minor in comparison to what’s in store. The story Lawrence crafts here follows Nick and his group of friends. The first note I made as I was reading, and this was only a couple pages into the novel, was “Lawrence does an incredible job of setting the ambiance and getting us into Nick’s head. It’s just excellent,” and that really could stand as my comment for the entire novel. What makes all of this work, and makes One Word Kill stand out above other similar novels is the emotion Lawrence manages to cram into almost every page. From the fear of being told one has cancer, to the joy of gathering for a game of D&D with friends, to the pain of losing people close to us, to the need to be loved and cared for, Lawrence excels at making you feel with his characters. There are some healthy doses of nostalgia for those of us who grew up somewhat outcast in our communities, but the emotion of these characters connects at a much deeper level than that. Not only does Lawrence excel at giving his story emotional impact, he does so because he crafts such real and believable characters. Then he puts them in an adventure with plenty of twists and turns, and no shortage of pulse-pounding scenes. This is a wonderful, brilliant read that I can’t recommend highly enough. Just when you think you have things figured out, Lawrence offers another reveal that keeps you guessing and moves the narrative in unexpected directions. It’s masterful.

There are few weaknesses to this novel. One that I did notice, however, is that there was a moment when I questioned exactly what the motivations of some of Nick’s friends were. How it was that they were joining him on this insane quest. It’s likely that other folks won’t have the same experience at that moment in the story, but it did give me pause. It was noticeable only because I was completely and totally engaged with the characters and story every other millisecond of reading this novel.

One Word Kill is nearly everything I could possibly want in a quick, sci-fi coming-of-age tale. I couldn’t put it down and I’m confident you won’t be able to either. Pick it up as soon as you can and get ready for an incredible ride.

Calvin Park, 9.5/10

Reviews by and James Tivendale and Adam Weller

Our interview with Mark Lawrence

Interview by Timy Takacs and James TivendaleWhat is your favorite fantasy creature and why?I’m far from sure I have a favourite fantasy creature. I’m not really a creature kind of guy. I’ll say lizardma [...]

Read interview


Mark Lawrence 's Impossible Times series

One Word Kill

Impossible Times #1

Limited Wish

Impossible Times #2

Dispel Illusion

Impossible Times #3

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