I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the impartiality of the following review.
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 Liar of Red Valley
Going into The Liar of Red Valley I had certain expectations. Maybe this would be some kind of American gothic Eldritch horror tale about how Sadie, suddenly dealing with gaining this primaeval blood magic, crosses the King, an entity as old and shadowy as the land itself. However, Walter Goodwater has instead crafted a story that refuses to be boxed in by genres, for better or for worse.
Sadie the Liar
Sadie is our protagonist and she doesn’t have too much in life. She lives outside of town with her mother in a broken-down old house, working as a waitress at the diner in town and has one friend, Graciela. I really liked Sadie as a character, she’s spicy. She stands up for herself when she needs to and won’t back down from doing what she perceives to be the right thing, but she will hide when she recognises it’s necessary.
Her mother is the hated and feared Liar, who contains the power to rewrite truth. For instance, changing somebody’s hair colour, taking away a terrible memory, or even bringing back a beloved pet – though all of these things are not real, by giving a little of their blood and paying the Liar’s Price which takes time off their lives for every lie told, everybody in Red Valley believes the lies, they become the truth. It’s tough to describe but it makes sense in the book, trust me.
When Sadie’s mother dies suddenly, she finds herself needing to work out how to be the Liar, and fast, because the ledgers that contain everybody’s lies are wanted by forces that Sadie cannot deal with on her own. She does not want them to fall into the wrong hands, which she fast learns are basically everybody’s but her own. Rightfully so, she is afraid, but also stubborn.
Atmosphere is Everything
My first impressions of The Liar of Red Valley were that it was almost as though Neil Gaiman wrote True Blood, and I think that is still partially true having finished the book. It has a very gothic dark fantasy vibe, and Goodwater has the strange imagination that Gaiman also holds, with just a hint of magic and wonder that I was not expecting. He’s very good at setting a scene and the whole book is very atmospheric.
“Telling a Lie will become easy, with time. Too easy. Never forget that once it is told, there’s no taking it back. Once it escapes from your head into the world, it has a life all its own.”
Of Magic and Monsters
My favourite thing about the novel is how alive Red Valley felt. The town is steeped in strange and ancient magic that makes it feel like another world. Obviously, we see this in the Liar and the King, a presence of fear that nobody has ever seen, who rules over the area, but that’s just the beginning. The King has his King’s Men, his eyes and ears, seemingly undead men who drive around keeping an eye on the town, notarised by their mirrored sunglasses. The diner that Sadie works at is built around an immortal tree that heals itself of any damage. The Laughing Boys are those that allowed demons to latch onto them when the drugs weren’t giving them enough of a high anymore. There are “things” in the dark, most of which we never meet but they’re always there just off to the side, held back by the King’s Peace if you’re on the right side of the River. If you’re on the other side? All bets are off. I loved that aspect of it, taking the good side of town and the bad side of town to a whole new level.
However it isn’t just the monsters and the magic in The Liar of Red Valley we need to concern ourselves with, Undersheriff Hassler also has a mighty bee in his bonnet for all the weird things in town and really seems to have it in for Sadie. He is a bit of a caricature of that “mean cop” trope, but he fits in with the story.
I love how much thought went into creating all of these elements that made Red Valley feel so magical. However, as strange as it may sound, this was probably also my least favourite thing about the novel. As much wonder and darkness as many of these elements added, some of them also felt a little too much at some points as there were so many things being introduced and juggled, I found it a little overwhelming at times.
Too Fast or Just Right?
Add to that the fast pace of the story. For the most part, I found myself enjoying how the story kept moving. It made for a very compelling and hard to put down read, and that is a tough balance to strike.
There were times, however, that I found myself dying for Sadie to have a quiet moment with Graciela, or somebody else. Maybe just a chapter of sitting back, chilling, talking about what’s been happening, the future perhaps. We meet so many cool side characters throughout, after all. There were certainly moments like this but for the most part, it felt to me like Sadie never had the chance to breathe, almost like the story was tripping over itself to get to the ending when it could have slowed down a little, just a smidge, and taken a more atmospheric journey.
Coming to the End (No Spoilerinos)
While I previously criticised The Liar of Red Valley for having too much going on, it has to be said that the way it all came together in the ending was pretty brilliant. There are things so subtly hinted at that you don’t even see the twists coming. Each element seemed to dance around each other like ocean waves in a storm as they crashed and merged and became new waves.
Some of the threads we see wrapped up were super satisfying, while others were somewhat… odd. I didn’t hate the way everything wrapped up, but I didn’t love it either. It’s very tough to put into words without spoiling so I shall leave that there.
Overall, The Liar of Red Valley is a speculative fiction story about breaking the rules, fighting for what is yours, and belonging. While yes, I hold some criticisms of the book, on the whole, I really enjoyed my time reading it. There are a few things that remain mysteries to the end and considering how much gets answered, that can be frustrating but at the same time, I think some things should remain mysterious. That’s part of the magic.
Walter Goodwater has a wonderful imagination and a really solid writing style that made this book a joy to read. If it has you interested, I can recommend it. Just know going in that there is grit to the story. It gets dark, it contains monsters, though it’s more akin to urban fantasy or high fantasy than horror when it comes down to it.
The Liar of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater releases through Solaris on 28th September 2021.
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