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city of lies

City of Lies (Book 2: The Keepers Trilogy)

by Lian Tanner

w/ Illustrations (inside) by Sebastian Ciaffaglione

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2011

Hardcover, 278 pages. Juvenile Fiction

12-year-old Goldie, impulsive and bold, relies on her skills as a liar and a thief to try to rescue her captured friends from the child-stealers running rampant in the City of Spoke.~Publisher’s Summary.

Goldie isn’t the only accomplished Liar and Thief to return in this sequel to Museum of Thieves. We get to experience a whole City of Liars. Shoot, even the City is a Liar. I adore the author of this children’s book series, I really do.

Lian Tanner’s sequel to the brilliant Museum of Thieves is among the better of Book Twos that I have read. In City of Lies Tanner sets us right back down into the City of Jewel and Goldie’s life. It is only a short while after the ending of Museum of Thieves and everyone is still reeling from the effects of Book One. Tanner reminds the reader a bit of the first, but not a great deal. A few interspersed notes by the 3rd person narrator and we are off on this new adventure.  There is a diverting cleverness in bringing the Reader into this new twist swiftly and with such immersion—Tanner needs the Reader to be present in the now of the book. And besides, you’ve read the first book. You have, haven’t you? Because you really should.

The shine of the first story’s victory has taken some tarnish. One, Goldie is unwilling to become the Fifth Keeper of the Museum of Dunt as she is meant to be. Two, Jewel’s parents are still adjusting to having independent children and the absence of the Blessed Guardians. Yes, the change is a good thing, but it is so different from how they were raised. The indoctrinations are not easily shrugged off and when accidents begin to occur a murmuring begins. Three, the Fugleman has returned—and is “a changed man.”

Goldie claims her reason for refusing the appointment as Fifth Keeper is that her parents are sick. And they are. Their time as prisoners of the House of Repentance was traumatic. The parents are also rather clinging (3). Theirs is a chain of a different sort than the first book’s. But they aren’t the only ones holding Goldie back. While their worry is infectious, Goldie herself is a problem—specifically that voice that so infamously led her to triumph in Museum of Thieves.

Goldie has come to believe that the voice only brings her trouble; which isn’t a lie. In part, Goldie longs for a normal childhood, a boring one. This inevitably wars with her more adventurous and independent side that has a daring job to do using her unusual and oft socially unacceptable skill-set. She decides to ignore the voice while undertaking her search for Toadspit and Bonnie in the foreign City of Spoke. In addition to sorting out who she should and will be and whether the voice is worth listening to, Goldie must also navigate a strange city amidst their Festival of Lies where everything is turned inside out and upside down. How does one tell a lie in order to find the truth, and how does one find the already hidden when everything is to be masked?

In the kind of imaginative turn that I adore with Frances Hardinge’s stories, Lian Tanner creates this marvelous Festival of Lies. Everyone must speak in lies and the City itself participates by telling a few Big Lies to the lucky few. Yes, City of Lies maintains the idea that magical (and metaphoric) possibility exists not only within a person or creature, but within Place as well. Beside the focus of a lie-celebrating City of Spoke, the novel returns us to the strange Museum of Dunt occasionally, a Place that has revealed its own consciousness in Museum of Thieves. As in the first book, the state of unrest is linked to the state of the City and the children—Goldie and Toadspit in particular. The Places externalize anxiety and create a fun sort of tension in the novels. In City of Thieves a terrifying beast in on the loose and on the hunt in the Museum, in the City of Jewel, and in the City of Spoke. There are all sorts of dangers and only the daring need apply.

I read an article recently about leading women in Romantic Comedies and it remarked upon how the flaws the writers must give them are, in actuality, trite. She can’t not be beautiful, so let’s make her a klutz. I don’t think Romantic Comedies have cornered the market on this kind of characterization. If not negligibly flawed, many an Adventure Heroine is formulaic enough to undermine (or even nullify) the conflict. Tension is muted because the flaw is hardly considerable or easily overcome by the perfections. Goldie’s flaws create serious conflict, and ones that are identifiable enough within the Reader that adrenaline and worry surface.

Goldie’s abilities put her at odds with her society. The risks in using her beliefs and skills to create change are significant. Entering the second book, we know that those risks have some reward and consequence, but we feel victorious and that Goldie is capable. She might fumble a bit, but she had come into herself in book one, had she not? But in City of Lies, Tanner creates a separation for the character and Reader. Goldie falters and is somewhat immobilized by responsibilities, distrust of herself, and –let’s face it—weariness. Enter Goldie No One, a reinvention of a self in order to free a self. It is the masked ball, the move to a new city, an opportunity to overcome the limitations pressed upon her by circumstance and expectation—it is a Festival of Lies. Goldie is back to a different kind of beginning, and the conflict of being able to trust who she is still becoming. Should she trust that voice in the back of her head?

Tanner has created a complex character ever in the state of changing, of becoming more. Goldie No One is an aspect this protagonist must address; throwing her into a Festival of Lies is a brilliant move. She has to find her friends, (while without knowing it) find herself, and she has to discern what is mere diversion and what is true and real. Who and what are sincere? Do you create your destiny or do you run blindly along with it—or is there a state in between? How do you interpret the signs?

Who might a young girl become when unencumbered, or, even, encumbered by someone else? Inhabiting the dreams, the adventures of others is a nice move in an Adventure story rife with intrigues. And I enjoy the idea that a person is a place; a museum, a collection of historical fact and figures; that the character might not only inhabit another’s history/adventure, but that they might in turn inhabit the character—whether the character be an actual building or city, or a different plane, or a person or creature. The present can be affected by the past, as well as the lies, in positive and negative ways, tangibly or intangibly. [Those black/white messages of children’s early years become more gray–a lovely lovely shade of gray.]

Despite the disguises, the essence of who someone is appears to remain much the same. This can be infinitely reassuring, or a terrible prickling up the spine. The Lies can be fun, but they can be quite deadly. Little is as it seems, and City of Lies is rife with uncertainty.

City of Lies is everything I want to see as a Book 2 of 3. It bridges to a third and final book with the promise of a great denouement. It also holds an arch of its own: introducing great new characters, providing a mystery to solve, and creating, developing, and gifting a sense of resolution. It doesn’t really stand alone, nor does it apologize for the fact. I am satisfied by good story, by great writing, and I wait longingly for the third book.

************************

If you like Frances Hardinge or Adrienne Kress, you will like Ms. Tanner’s The Keepers books (and vice versa). For boys and girls alike; ages 9 & up (likely to 12/13); lovers of Utopia/Dystopia fiction and/or of fantasy; and especially for those tired of romances in every book they read.

My review of Museum of Thieves.

Ms. Tanner’s website. Sebastian Ciaffaglione’s blog.

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