One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

One Word Kill by Mark Lawrence

Series: Impossible Times #1Rating: 4.75/5
Date of Publishing: May 1st 2019Genre: fantasy, sci-fi
Publisher: 47NorthAvailable: Amazon,
Number of pages: 201Author’s website: http://mark—



In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange—yet curiously familiar—man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help—now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

Quote of the Book

“Michael Devis had a broad face, dark flinty eyes, and a remarkably clear complexion for a fifteen-year-old boy. He deserved acne. You want people’s badness to show. The poison inside him should be bursting out. Instead, he looked almost amiable when he wasn’t sneering. I was taller than him, but he filled his blazer out in that chunky sort of way that’s part muscle and part fat. ‘What?’ he asked, the sneer deepening into threat.

But the falling hair had taken my attention. A thick dark tuft. The kind you should have to rip out. They said that if the chemo was going to take your hair it would do it somewhere between the second and third week. I wondered if eight days were a record.”

“We were all of us so consumed by our own imagination, victims of it, haunted by impossibles, set alight by our own visions, and by other people’s. We weren’t the flamboyant artsy creatives, the darlings who would walk the boards beneath the hot eye of the spotlight, or dance, or paint, or even write novels. We were a tribe who had always felt as if we were locked into a boy that we couldn’t see. And when D&D came along, suddenly we saw both the box and the key.”

Song of the Book

This was such a difficult decision between It Can Happen by Yes and Fight the Good Fight by Triumph.
I ended up going with Triumph because It Can Happen, was a tad upbeat sounding compared to Fight the Good Fight, which is a bit heavier in the guitars plus the lyrics fit better.


At 15, Nick is diagnosed with leukemia. Soon after he begins his treatment Nick starts to experience weird events, strong feelings of déjà vu and a mysterious stalker.

Nick is a smart kid, like genius smart. He should be in advanced grades but screws up the placements on purpose so he stays behind with his friends. Nick doesn’t need another reason to be the target of bullies, he and his group of friends, are just enough on the outside fringes of what passes as normal by the cool kids, as it is.

Nick has already lost one parent to cancer and now he is faced with it himself. This experience that comes from life throwing you curve balls at a young age, coupled with his intellect, gives him a kind of wisdom that makes his observations feel more mature. But genius and observations can’t prepare a person for the awkwardness of being a teenager and that is where Nick shows his true age.

I liked the dry sciencey tone to Nick’s voice, the way he processes works for me and helps keep the cancer prognosis, the treatment and outlook of survival from feeling too heavy, while not sugar-coating a thing about it. Also, the disease never disappears as the book proceeds, it’s there right to the end with no hiding from the potential outcome.

Nick has a good support system in his friends and we get lots of fun friendship moments between him and his buddies, whom we get to know mostly through their D&D meetings and hanging out. The inclusion of the new girl Mia, in their group, throws the boys for a loop but she quickly proves to be a great addition to their campaigns, as well as something special to Nick.

These parts have that eighties feel, like Super 8 or Stranger Things – it’s a time when kids could run freely around neighborhoods without too much fear and if you are into D&D, there is that sense of nostalgia of getting together to campaign.

The writing style is my favorite – it’s immersive and clear. It gave me a Stephen King vibe – not only for characters that are tangible… you know, the kind you get when you have a decent understanding of people and what makes them tick. But also, for that clean writing that says everything it needs to with less – nothing proves that more than the title of the book.

I loved this passage:

“People look funny when you turn down the TV volume and they dance without music. When they talk without meaning it’s the same thing. If you ignore the words, there’s an honesty in the emotion that fleets across faces in conversation. Around my mother’s eyes was a surprising desperation. If I had been listening to her, I wouldn’t have noticed it. She was always on top of any given situation, gathering the facts, completely in control of herself. Steely stare, serious grey hair–she’d gone grey in her twenties–narrow mouth carefully shaping each interrogation. But with the sound turned down she looked on the edge of tears.”

This scene of Nick observing his mom, and realizing how tightly she is wound trying to keep it together for his sake, shook me, and I, on page two, was close to tears.  I’m old enough to have seen both sides of this scene – maybe not for the same reason but with that same helpless fear. That one look, as parents we’ve all been in the position to have had, and as a child to have witnessed it.

Be it good or bad, this passage set the tone for me and I never really let go of that underlying fear of having to go through something like this as a parent or child. Which is probably why I liked Nick’s clinical kind of thinking and the distance it gave to the story, but at the same time that distance also kept me from totally loving it too.

All I can say about the plot without spoilers is that it’s one of those things I love but oh, how it makes my brain hurt.

I can’t even pretend to understand the math parts of the story and knowing the author is a math guy, I am grateful he took pity on us non-math people and didn’t go all Heinlein on us.

That said, the science/math stuff was explained well enough that I almost felt I could grasp it and wouldn’t doubt it possible for a minute, but like that ghost you see out of the corner of your eye, for me the understanding of it was gone just as quick. The story of me and math hasn’t changed since school.

Being that this book is short I blew through it fairly quickly. It’s hard to call the book outright fun because it does have that bit of darkness, but the friendships and comradery gave it heart where it was needed and that I enjoyed.

So, I am just going to leave it there and say: If you’re like me and been hearing lots of good things about this author but haven’t had the opportunity, or weren’t sure where to start with his work…well, then this is a great place to jump on the Mark Lawrence bandwagon.

Personal Notes

I’ve got an uncorrected proof copy through Netgalley. Thanks to 47North and Mark Lawrence for the opportunity.

Song of the book

For me the choice was quite obvious. When it cames to the ’80s, you just have to pick Michael Jackson. Besides, he is being mentioned in the book. And Thriller fits very well too.


I’ve been familiar with Mark Lawrence‘s work for quite a few years now. I think I’ve first read Prince of Thorns sometime in 2014, then read the whole trilogy in 2015. Then some years later I’ve read Prince of Fools. Not that any of those previous books could be compared to One Word Kill. Lawrence took a step away from grimdark fantasy and inched closer to sience-fiction. Not that he completely left behind the darker elements. Oh no, rest assured, One Word Kill is not a fluffy kind of read. But it shows off what Lawrence is best at: characterisation.

Nick Hayes is a typical fifteen year old teenager: he is awkward, balances somewhere between childhood and adulthood, has friends and hobbies. Although how typical can a genius kid be? I mean he loves mathematics and quantum physics and things I can’t even start to understand. On the other hand, he loves playing D&D with his friends. These sessions are their escape from a world which mostly gives them mysery. There is overweight, introvert Simon who is a genius in his own right, who gets bullied at school; Elton who has 2 brothers and is good at martial arts; John the wealthy and popular kid and Nick the young mathematical genius who just learned that he has leukemia. These boys have a tight circle and always get each others’ back. But then everything changes when Mia and a mysterious guy named Demus appear in their life and make them question everything they believed in until then.

I always think back to the ’80s with nostalgia. Even though I’m technically an ’80s kid, I don’t have much recollections of those couple of years I was already born. And then, I’m pretty sure the ’80s my country experienced is slightly different from the one the western world did. But putting all that aside, I still have a fondness for that decade. After reading One Word Kill I had a craving for ’80s music… and for that kind of „simpler” life, where we had cable phones, no internet or social media. But I went off topic, what I want to say is, Lawrence created an atmosphere in this book which threw my right back into my childhood. Except, I didn’t have such a close group of friends and never played D&D, which I wish was a thing for me back in my own teens.

I loved the parts where Nick and the others played, and how fantasy and real life mixed with each other through the book – partly because of the similar events, and partly because their life just turns into sci-fi novel when they learn that time travel will become possible in the future.  But as in the game, they have to make decisions and bear the consequences.

As in terms of writing, I didn’t really know what to expect. As I said, I’m familiar with some of Mark Lawrence’s other books, but they are all grimdark fantasy, which requires a different tone and style, than a YA fiction novel. I was really pleased to find that Lawrence has absolutely no problem stepping out of the genre that is most associated with him. That’s not saying that it doesn’t have a darker tone – it has, especially when it comes to the villains, Ian Rust in particular. He is a nasty piece. And let’s not forget about the fact that the main character is a kid battling with leukemia. That hardly makes One Word Kill a light read. Add some mathematics into the mix – which was surprisingly easy to understand, mostly, even for me who is a total analfabeta when it comes to numbers – and you’ll get an interesting result.

“The thing about cancer, and I guess any disaster, is that it doesn’t just go away, you don’t wake up; and in the end, you just have to get on with things exactly like everyone else does.”

Scenes filled with a rush of adrenaline and fear are being followed with bittersweet moments of experiencing first love and heartwrenching reality of leukemia. But amidst all of this, there is laughter too, because Lawrence is able to feed this all to us by sprinkling some humor on it that makes the characters so much more alive. These humorous moments either come from the characters personalities – Simon’s mom for example, when she sees John’s home she tries to encourage Sam to marry him, or Simon himself who lacks every social skills – and sometimes from the fact that at one point you just have to handle things with humor otherwise you’ll break under the weight.

“And yes, it was also true that some fraction of it was also down to the fact that although John Featherstonhaugh might have music at his fingertips, when it came to Motown, the rest of him jerked about with about as much sense of rythym as an epileptic cow.”

One thing that makes me stop giving a full 5 stars is that some things bothered me. Some characters conveniently pop up at the right time in the right place out of the blue which is too convenient to be believable. It doesn’t really affects the enjoyment of the book though or makes the twists any less surprising.

Mark Lawrence squeezed a lot of emotions, an interesting plot, and great characters into 200 pages. Which just makes One Word Kill a perfect one setting read. Or two if you need to sleep like I did. It’s full of heart, adventure, music, friendship and just has this charm that you can’t shake off. It’s going to sneak under your skin and will make you root for Nick to come over everything that life had thrown at him, and to find his happiness.