One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence [Book Review]
If you love Stranger Things then you are very likely to love this book. It’s a little geeky and features a bunch of roleplaying teenagers as the core cast. Unlike Stranger Things it’s set in London, mainly the suburban SW, in the 1980s, also there are no weird creatures, although there is some weirdness, just of a different nature.
One Word Kill
One Word Kill was very relatable for me, as much because I’m the same sort of age as the protagonists (not now, but I was a teenager in the 1980s). I’m also running a D&D story for my son and his friends, so I’ve watched those teenage roleplayers recently. They’re no different from the kids in One Word Kill.
The title comes from a Dungeons & Dragons spell that the players find on a scroll, which allows them to kill any one character with a single word. (Although the current version is re-titled Power Word Kill.) No saving throw, just instant death. This comes up in their play session, and is then replicated in the denouement. The characters are faced with an impossible choice on who to save.
One Word Kill’s Themes
The themes include coping with a potentially terminal cancer, first love (or at least teenage lust), gangs, and planning a break in to get a cutting edge bit of technology. All of it set in a pre-internet and mobile phoneless world. Nick tells the story, having just been diagnosed with cancer.
The story is really well thought through and plotted out. The core of it is time travel, and the way it is written deals well with the sort of glitches that come up. The mysterious stranger finds a way of convincing them he’s from the future without contaminating the past. The story also carefully stays away from some key influencing while still making it move along. I particularly liked the how and the why of the time travel, and what drives the behaviour of the time traveller in making sure that no-one knows what is going to happen.
As you’d expect with introducing a young woman to a bunch of 16 year old males there’s a love story in the core of One Word Kill. Part of the motivation for the time traveller coming back to see them is to ensure that there is a future for Mia. There’s a little competition from the boys early on, but it rapidly becomes apparent where the relationship might happen. Mia choses Nick. We get to see his uncertainty, and realisation, as well as his inexperience in talking to women. It’s pretty sweet, but it doesn’t make this a romance, just makes it a much more rounded thriller showing more than one dimension of life.
There’s a lot more than teenagers sitting around playing Dungeons & Dragons. Amongst other things there’s attempted arson, stand-offs and a violent psychopath. The psychopath has an axe to grind with Nick and Mia. People disappear when the local boss wants them to.
Towards the end the group have to break into a research lab for a cutting edge bit of technology. There’s a lot of suspense with this. I spent the time reading that part wondering how and when it was going to go wrong.