One Word Kill is my first experience with Lawrence’s science fiction and, while it didn’t resonate with my soul as deeply as his Book of the Ancestor, it was a solid, fun, fast-paced read that I very much enjoyed. Here we have a nerdy group of friends, similar in dynamic to the crew that has taken the world by storm in Netflix’s Stranger Things. This group finds themselves facing external strife through contact with a plot that could have come straight from the pages of Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter. But just as harrowing is their internal turmoil as they learn that one of their number is currently in a battle for his life against the grimmest of foes: cancer.
In hospital they ask you to rate your discomfort on a scale of ten. I guess it’s the best they can come up with, but it fails to capture the nature of the beast. Pain can stay the same while you change around it. And, like a thumb of constant size, what it blocks out depends on how close it gets to you. At arm’s length a thumb obscures a small fragment of the day. Held close enough to your eye it can blind you to everything that matters, relegating the world to a periphery.
Nick is our main character, and we get the story from his perspective. The story begins with his cancer diagnosis, and we see him wrestle with the horrors of chemotherapy and the knowledge that his body is turning against him. While I didn’t have this struggle as a teen, my husband was diagnosed with cancer at sixteen, so I can imagine Nick’s situation and felt deeply for him. Nick’s refuge from his pain and fear comes in the form of weekly Dungeons and Dragons campaigns with his friends.
Truth may often be the first casualty of war, but dignity is definitely the first casualty of disease.
While I’ve never played Dungeons and Dragons, it’s not from lack of interest. I’m fascinated by the game, but it’s overwhelming to figure out how to start, especially when you don’t have enough interested people in your life to play the game effectively. However, I love reading (or watching, regarding Stranger Things) groups of friends who have bonded over D and D. There’s something so intelligent and imaginative and immersive about the game as I’ve heard it described, and I can see how bonding over said game would make for a pretty tight and abiding friendship.
We were all of us 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 box that we couldn’t see. And when D&D came along, suddenly we saw both the box and the key.
There’s also a romance in the book that reminded me again of Stranger Things. It was similarly sweet, though not as pure. I can see that relationship becoming even more of a central focus in the next two installments.
We might live in a multiverse of infinite wonder, but we are what we are, and can only care about what falls into our own orbit.
I don’t want to really get into the external strife that plagues the group, as I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that I figured out the plot incredibly early on, but the story was fun enough for me to look past that. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things and Back to the Future and Dark Matter, I think you’ll really enjoy this book. Also, it’s very short, making it a great choice if you’re looking for a breather between heavier reads. I found it fairly predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing. One Word Kill is a nice, easy story to disappear into for a few hours, and I’ll definitely be reading the next two books. I can’t recall ever seeing another author publish an entire trilogy in under a year, which I think warrants a special congratulations to Lawrence. I’m interested to see where the story goes next.
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