Book review · novel

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland

a conspirary of truthsA wrongfully imprisoned storyteller spins stories from his jail cell that just might have the power to save him—and take down a corrupt government.

Arrested on accusations of witchcraft and treason, Chant finds himself trapped in a cold, filthy jail cell in a foreign land. With only his advocate, the unhelpful and uninterested Consanza, he quickly finds himself cast as a bargaining chip in a brewing battle between the five rulers of this small, backwards, and petty nation.

Or, at least, that’s how he would tell the story.

In truth, Chant has little idea of what is happening outside the walls of his cell, but he must quickly start to unravel the puzzle of his imprisonment before they execute him for his alleged crimes. But Chant is no witch—he is a member of a rare and obscure order of wandering storytellers. With no country to call his home, and no people to claim as his own, all Chant has is his wits and his apprentice, a lad more interested in wooing handsome shepherds than learning the ways of the world.

And yet, he has one great power: his stories in the ears of the rulers determined to prosecute him for betraying a nation he knows next to nothing about. The tales he tells will topple the Queens of Nuryevet and just maybe, save his life. (from Simon and Schuster)

This novel is a tour de force. It manages to be engaging and thrilling while being set in very limited settings, mainly a few enclosed spaces. The main character is an old man, a storyteller, accused and imprisoned in a land he doesn’t know that much about, for things he didn’t do – or were misunderstood. Not much action here then, but a lot of dialogues and analysis of the situation. With his words and observation skills, Chant will be able to manipulate people around him on a scale I could not have imagined possible. It never felt like a reach to believe either, the main character being way more cunning than anyone else around him.

“They’re like boots, stories. Some fit you just right, some keep your toes warm in the winter, and some of ’em rub at you until you’re sore and blistered.”

A Conspiracy of Truths is a fantasy novel, focusing on the way governments and countries work, with very little time spent on magic, but the world-building being more about the way a city works. For people who loved the way Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence looked at “city planning”, this is perfect. It also hints at a very large world, with many languages and cultures, the main character playing with languages a lot. Alexandra Rowland manages to write a very inclusive world, same sex marriage being normal, as well as polyamory relationships, among others. The cast of character is also a big strenght of the novel, with many women in position of power and big parts to play in the story. Echoing some of our real world issues by being about stories, propaganda, class systems, inequalities and economy, A Conspiracy of Truths is above all about humans, the way they think and act and feel. Despite a main character who can be vulgar and mean (but in an enjoyable way!), this is a very humane novel.

“She’s an advocate, after all. It’s right there in the title: she speaks for people who cannot speak for themselves. She tells their stories to save their necks, or their souls, or however you want to look at it.
And so do I.
I know exactly why I can’t bring myself to be kind to her. I have no illusions about that: to find her likable, I’d have to find myself likable, and I know I’m not, and I don’t care to make myself so.”

Chant’s apprentice is another highlight of this book. He doesn’t appear much during the first half of the story but the old storyteller does talk about him often, his affection for him appearing clear as day even though he tries to hide his feelings often. Ylfing is a literal ray of sunshine, the most adorable cinnamon roll ever. He is able to see everything that is good in people, is an hopeless romantic who can’t help but fall in love with every nice boy he encounters (and them with him), and is doing his best at all times. Knowing the sequel was about him made me unbelievably happy.

“There are many stories that aren’t mine to tell. And, more important, there are some that aren’t mine to hear.”

Dealing with very serious subjetcs, it managed to be laugh-out-loud funny more often than not while still keeping an appropriate tone when needed. With a plot revolving around telling stories – each tailored to the listener and the situation it calls for, but also about the very nature of stories and what they mean – this novel was a joy to read and a new favourite.
As I’m writing this after having read the sequel already, I can say it takes on a whole new meaning after that and those two books work wonders together.
The author writes unreliable narrators with mastery, and I’ll be buying and reading everything they come up with in the future with delight.

I began hearing whispers between the cells – unfair arrests of common citizens, of civil servants, of suspicious-looking foreigners… This is always the way when a country begins to gnaw at its own flesh. It is a sign of sickness, a sign that things may be about to get much worse than they are.”

Content warning: mention of suicide

3 thoughts on “A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland

  1. I loved A Conspiracy of Truths so I’m hunting down everyone who’s written reviews for any of Alexandra Rowland’s novels! They have a new one coming out in August, it’s an m/m romance fantasy novel called A Taste of Gold and Iron, and it looks really good. (I’m worried it’ll be overshadowed by the new Tamsyn Muir release at the start of September.)

    If you’re also interested in chatting with other fans of the books, there’s a fan discord server listed on Rowland’s website (we’re a cool group – come join! 🙂 ) and there’s a fandom event for their books about the Chants coming up if that’s your sort of thing!


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