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Posted on 11 Aug 2022 in Fiction, SFF |

ASTRID SCHOLTE League of Liars. Reviewed by Amelia Dudley

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Melbourne-based Astrid Scholte’s new novel pits its characters against injustice.

Liars … recount their stories perfectly. As though they’ve memorised the story from start to finish. However, the truth is organic. Details are remembered in bits and pieces. That’s the way the mind works. One detail leads to another.

Astrid Scholte, bestselling author of Four Dead Queens, displays her talent for creative world-building and intricate plots in her latest novel, League of Liars. The people of Telene fear shadows for the power they hold. Flood lamps with diffuse light are, by law, always on in people’s homes and in the streets after dark. Special machines maintain a layer of thick fog, known as the permacloud, over the city of Kardelle to banish all but the weakest of shadows. Edem – extra-dimensional magic – is there to be used, so long as there is a deep enough shadow to touch, such as when the permacloud momentarily falters or a flood lamp fails. The Edem responds to the user’s spoken command, but in an unforeseeable way, often with collateral damage. As such, its use is outlawed and the punishment severe.

Cayder Broduck once used Edem as a child, and since his time in reform school has had no sympathy for Edem criminals.

His goal is to become a prosecutor specialising in Edem crimes, but the only lawyer he can ask to take him on as an apprentice is Mr Toyer, the kingdom’s foremost public defender. Cayder still views this as a win, as it will give him an insight into what to expect from his opponents later in his career. The latest clients to come to Mr Toyer, and therefore Cayder, will never leave Vardean prison if they are convicted. As he examines their stories and the evidence, Cayder is reminded that these are people and nothing is as cut and dried as it seemed in his head. In the end, their stories will challenge everything he thought he knew.

Watching Cayder’s character develop from revering Vardean as an institution that punishes the wicked to being able to empathise with other people, is an enjoyable facet of this engaging story. Despite his desire to become a prosecutor, he’s still there mentally cheering on his mentor as Mr Toyer defends a client in court. The courtroom drama aspect of this novel is well written – the reader is also there cheering Mr Toyer on whenever he questions and oh-so-delicately destroys a witness’s testimony.

Other characters’ disillusionment with their country’s justice system is contrasted with Cayder’s naivety. Eventually, these observations and conversations help him to question his own beliefs and work out what he really thinks, rather than just parroting what he was taught as a child. This change is sped up by one of the new defendants at Vardaen being somewhat close to home, but this doesn’t undermine his growth as a character.

The way characters conceal certain information from the reader, or allude to things not yet fully revealed, is artfully done. That the chapters from other points of view are written in the third person, rather than the first, as Cayder’s are, also helps to make their thoughts feel authentic, rather than immersion-breaking. These people’s stories – and whatever landed them in Vardean – are Cayder’s (and Mr Toyer’s) mysteries to solve.

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s the monotonous nature of the characters’ diets. There is one major crop in Telene and fair enough, but all anyone eats or thinks about eating is Torlu berries, and it did start to bother me. Every character seems to be obsessed with them.

Scholte’s sense of humour is another thing to appreciate about League of Liars:

‘What do you have planned for this evening?’ I’d always liked Keema, although I wasn’t sure if she liked me as more than a friend.

‘I’m having dinner with my girlfriend. You?’

Ah, well. It was worth a shot.

The possibility of a sequel has been mentioned. While the ending here works well, it is certainly very open to – and deserving of – a sequel. I hope that it will one day, as there seems to be so much more about this intriguing world to explore.

Astrid Scholte League of Liars Allen and Unwin 2022 PB pp432 RRP $19.99

Amelia Dudley has degrees in plant biology and currently works as a tutor.

You can buy League of Liars from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW.

Or check if this book is available from Newtown Library.

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