I gave the book three stars — ⭐⭐⭐ — and summed it up as follows:
Alternately brilliant and mind-boggling, Liars Called is a complex adventure story that never quite lives up to its opening chapters.
Full review below!
Liars Called is not an easy book to review — and it’s not an easy book to read.
Author Stephen Morse begins his story with one of the more compelling opening sequences I’ve read in a while: Lance Hawthorn Underwood, currently undergoing physical therapy after a near-debilitating car accident, is invited to board a mysterious bus. (We follow this story through Lance’s journals, which include additional notes and corrections — an excellent way to keep the reader hooked.)
Once on the bus, a creature with pointed teeth gives him some advice:
Heed the clues. The bold are quickest to die. The fearful die almost as fast. A clever man may be tempted to lie, and also die. But to survive, one must be a little of all three.
Each passenger is given a “debt card” and told that everything has a price, and for the first third of the novel we follow Lance as he learns how this new world works, how to use his debt card, and what “the bold are quickest to die” actually means.
However, the remaining two thirds of the novel never stand up to the brilliance of the opening. Once Lance understands the basic mechanics of the world, the story devolves into an extended Dungeons and Dragons session, in which characters who literally identify themselves as “the tank” and “the healer” (Lance is, of course, the rogue) slash at monsters for pages on end.
Lance repeatedly comments on the derivative nature of this world, wondering why his current situation so closely resembles D&D and video games. By the end of the book, we understand that Lance might get an answer to his question in the sequel — but many readers might not make it that far.
If I could review the opening six chapters on their own, Liars Called would get five stars.