Title: A Conspiracy of Truths
Author: Alexandra Rowland
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: October 23rd, 2018
Subjects and Themes: Stories, Politics
Page Count: 464 (hardback)
A Conspiracy of Truths is a story about people and what makes them tick. And it’s a story about stories. And it’s a story about stories that tell you what makes people tick. And if you love stories (I mean, you’re reading this, aren’t you?) Rowland’s debut is one you should not miss out on.
Admittedly, the book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I went into it anticipating something similar to 1001 Nights and In the Night Garden–something whimsical and fantastical–and it took me a while to adjust to the fact that A Conspiracy of Truths is an entirely different beast.
That’s not to say there aren’t stories within stories in this book (or that they’re not fantastical). We get more than a dozen of them and they serve many purposes: they’re used to educate a person on a subject, to deceive and coerce, or to simply pass the time. But the book is less about the stories themselves and more about their…anatomy. The shape of them. While the content of the stories are important, they’re not quite as important as what they say about the storyteller and the storyreceiver. How they’re told, how they’re interpreted, how they’re reacted to–all of that can tell you so much of a person and that’s the beauty of stories.
A Conspiracy of Truths is the ultimate love letter to stories and the idea that people–all people–are pattern finders. The way we look for meaning in chaos, draw through random dots, seeing pictures and creating stories out of them. And sometimes such stories have the power to upturn nations.
It takes a stronger soul than me to not fall headlong in love with a message like that.
Okay, enough vague gushing. Let’s get to the meat of it.
Our story begins when Chant–our illustrious, elderly, cantankerous storyteller–gets arrested and charged with witchcraft, espionage, and brazen impertinence while passing through Nuryevet, a country where polyamory is the norm, the government divided into five Queens and Kings, and nearly everything requires the signing of paperwork (including visits to the brothel).
Chant soon discovers that Nureyviet is rotten to the core with all manner of corruption–assassinations, nepotism, bribery. Things he normally wouldn’t give a toss about, but with his neck on the line and his execution date drawing near, he realizes that to save himself he must first save this country from itself. What can a 70-year old man do from the confines of a cell, you may ask? Well, Chant isn’t without allies. In his corner he’s got one very reluctant but talented advocate; one kindhearted, though a tad naive, apprentice; said apprentice’s boyfriend (who has very beautiful handwriting); and of course, the greatest weapon at his disposal–his stories.
Chant isn’t an easy character to like and he knows it. While undoubtedly entertaining, I found his fiery personality somewhat exhausting in the beginning. But then he started growing on me, and at some point he went from grating on my nerves to pulling at my heartstrings and plastering a grin on my face. I don’t know when it happened, but I do know why. It’s his love of stories and understanding of the human heart that ultimately won me over, and by the end I would have happily fought Ylfing for the apprentice position.
Speaking of which, his relationship with Ylfing was hands-down my favourite part of the book. The teenager’s sweet and unassuming personality contrasts so wonderfully with Chant’s grumpy cynicism, and despite all of Chant’s “I don’t care” attitude, the love shared between them is palpable. Their scenes range from hilarious to intellectually provocative to tear-jerking and I would gladly read five more books about their adventures.
Aside from Ylfing, most of the side characters in the story are women. Diverse women. Women who are flawed and decidedly not nice. Women who stand up for what they believe is right even if it means losing everything else. Soldiers, lawyers, politicians, mothers–Rowland gives a platform for all, which is so gratifying to see in a fantasy novel.
The side characters also serve as Chant’s eyes and ears. A story has no right to be this entertaining when its narrator spends most of his time locked up in cells, but at no point does it feel claustrophobic. These characters constantly come and go carrying news and stories and just the sheer magnetism of their personalities, and you soon forget that you barely know what this country even looks like.
Plot-wise, it’s a lot more politics-heavy than I’d expected. You get thrown a lot of names and info from the get-go and it took me a good 1/3 of the book to get settled into it. But from then on I was fully hooked. I’m pretty sure my initial disengagement has to do with my shoddy memory and lack of note-taking, so a word of advice: write notes on the key political players as they come up.
There are books that make you ponder the nature of humans. There are books that have you on the edge of your seat, brows furrowed and biting your nails. And there are books that leaves you smiling and feeling good about the world. And this book? This book manages all three.
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review