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The Tales of the Chants #1

A Conspiracy of Truths

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In a bleak, far-northern land, a wandering storyteller is arrested on charges of witchcraft. Though Chant protests his innocence, he is condemned not only as a witch, but a spy. His only chance to save himself rests with the skills he has honed for decades – tell a good story, catch and hold their attention, or die.

But the attention he catches is that of the five elected rulers of the country, and Chant finds himself caught in a tangled, corrupt political game which began long before he ever arrived here. As he’s snatched from one Queen’s grasp to another’s, he realizes that he could either be a pawn for one of them… or a player in his own right. After all, he knows better than anyone how powerful the right story can be: Powerful enough to save a life, certainly. Perhaps even powerful enough to bring a nation to its knees.

("Fanfic"-style tags for this book can be found here: https://twitter.com/_alexrowland/stat... (May contain very slight spoilers))

456 pages, Hardcover

First published October 23, 2018

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About the author

Alexandra Rowland

10 books718 followers
Alexandra Rowland is the author of several fantasy books, including A Conspiracy Of Truths, A Choir Of Lies, and Some by Virtue Fall, as well as a Hugo Award-nominated podcaster (all sternly supervised by their feline quality control manager). They hold a degree in world literature, mythology, and folklore from Truman State University.

They are represented by Britt Siess of Britt Siess Creative Management.

Find them on Twitter, Instagram, Patreon or their website.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 449 reviews
Profile Image for chai ♡.
321 reviews150k followers
December 2, 2021
I tweeted "the absolute sexiest thing an author can do is write a story entirely from the perspective of morally empty and unrepentantly wretched characters and make you root for them as if they were heroes" and the author of this book replied "*gently nudges A Conspiracy Of Truths towards you*" and that's the story of how I came to pick up A Conspiracy Of Truths
Profile Image for Jessica Betts.
Author 2 books12 followers
January 28, 2019
For me, Character is the single most essential element of creating a binge-worthy and fandom-ready story.
I will follow a well-made character into any setting.
So, when Alexandra Rowland posted an excerpt from her novel A Conspiracy of Truths and I found Chant to be a whole, flawed and clever and opinionated, character I was willing to let him take me anywhere.
And oh, boy did he ever!
The structure of ACOT is such that you’re really getting several stories for the price of one. Each of them is complete in their own way. All throughout, Chant regals you with vivid and concise images of those around him. As a character, he is a delightfully crotchety storyteller and as a storyteller, he is a magnificent lens into the observations and insights of the other characters around him.
Ylfing, an open-hearted and earnest apprentice, will make you fall in love with love.
Consanza, a jaded and clever advocate for Chant, manages to both reflect chant’s own flaws and misgivings as well as those of her country while holding fast to her own beliefs and self-serving personality.
As for Nuryavet, the setting of this intricate and beautifully crafted story, I can only say that the varied and unique personalities that pepper the city will never grow boring. This story doesn’t shy away from a pointed look at the illusion of money, the effectiveness of propaganda, or the inevitable faults of the government.
This book is the true storyteller’s story.
It contains several well-crafted mythologies and fables and dozens of impressive descriptions that caused a visceral reaction as I read. I binged this book to the last word, feeling breathless and excited the entire time.
Now, before I race off to write some fanfic featuring precious Ylfing getting the sequel he deserves, I have one last thing to say; read this book.
It is worth every second and every penny you will spend.
Profile Image for Kathy Shin.
151 reviews116 followers
October 25, 2018
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 wouldn't normally 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 via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review
Profile Image for Jenia.
411 reviews99 followers
August 3, 2019
I’ll be honest: A Conspiracy of Truths first came on my radar because of its gorgeous cover. And because of that gorgeous cover, I waited nine months after release date to actually get it — I wanted the paperback specifically. I’m glad I waited so long, because boy is the outside gorgeous; but I’m sad I waited so long because boy is the inside even better.

A Conspiracy of Truths is about… well, lies, mostly. Or rather, truths that seem like lies and lies that seem like truths, and the man who spins them all. In less poetic terms: Chant is an old travelling storyteller who gets falsely accused of being a witch while he and his apprentice are passing through a town. He gets a trial, in which he tries to talk his way out of being executed for witchcraft. Instead he talks himself into being accused of being a spy. Then he continues to try to talk himself out of that. It goes similarly well.

Simply put: I really, really liked this book. I think I expected something far more litfic-y, and A Conspiracy of Truths does have a lot to say about the power of stories and how humans use them to make sense of the world — and how fragile those shared stories can be. But also it’s about a grumpy old man who’s stuck in various types of cell for most of the book, trying to bullshit his way out, with varying degrees of success. Chant’s stories and plots get pretty audacious — and snowball into something that shakes the whole nation. I giggled my way through most of it, and stared in delighted horror at the rest.

Chant is a fantastic character. He’s cynical and grumpy, but underneath that he also has a deep appreciation for humanity as a whole. His relationship with his apprentice Ylfing was my favourite part. They’re like an uncle and beloved nephew, at times fretting over each other and at times completely exasperated with the other. It’s pretty rare, and wonderful, to see a really strong cross-generational bond. Ylfing himself is wonderful too: a much sweeter, more optimistic, and completely “boy-crazy” (per Chant) foil to his master. Chant’s publicly-appointed advocate Consanza was another highlight: she’s just as cynical as him and pretty bored by the trial in general. Watching them butt heads made me grin every time.

I also really loved how much Rowland ran with the concept of storytelling. The book is literally being told by Chant and he’s not necessarily the most reliable narrator. For example, he tends to brush off any time his heart is pounding from worry or fear as oh, just him having a small heart attack probably, it happens. It’s exasperating in a really fun way. There’s also a lot of stories-within-stories: Chant and the others spins short tales to make a “moral” point, to convince the person listening to do something, or just to pass the time. The listener may interrupt the story with their own asides and the storyteller might not get to finish the tale. In one memorable case the storyteller simply forgot the ending.

This results in a fantastic juxtaposition: Chant’s own world is limited to his small cell, but as the most of the stories take place “a long time ago and half the world away” the book’s world feels large. Naturally Nuryevet, the country Chant is imprisoned in, is the most developed. It took a bit of time for the political factions and alliances in Nuryevet to click, but luckily it’s nothing too intricate. In general, Nuryevens are hilariously/depressingly obsessed with bureaucracy. Marriage is an “amalgamation of every kind of legal partnership”, and may include love and sex or “just” friendship, business, joint ownership of property, etc. Poly marriages are exceedingly common and nobody cares about the details as long as the paperwork is filed correctly; Consanza, for example, has two wives and a husband.

Side-note: to go with their love of bureaucracy, Nuryevens have a Slavic-based naming system, complete with patronymics and matronymics, which I freaking adored.

All right, I’ll leave off with the gushing here. In short, as I said, I don’t really regret waiting for the paperback. On the other hand, the sequel A Choir of Lies is coming out next month and I know that one I’ll have to get on day one.
Profile Image for Cozy Reading Times.
372 reviews11 followers
December 22, 2022
This was extremely cozy but also politcally complex.
I don't know how, but this book was so much better than Alexandra Rowland's new book "A Taste of Gold and Iron", a book that sady dissapointed me this year. It seemed flat and not as "intelligent" or lyracally written as had hoped.

This book on the opposite was all of those things and more. It was so smart, especially in its structure. I was always guessing what would happen next and an o the edge of my seat... although most of this book takes place in custody. Our main character spend this book either in court or imprissioned in multipe different places.
But he as a character is just so likeable. He's an old man, always cranky and cheeky, complaining about anything and everything. But he also cares about other people and tells beautiful stories.

His apprentice was adorable and I'm glad the companion novel is about him.

It's been quite some time since I read this book which is why I don't remember every detail, but this books stays in my memory and changed my opinion on this author. Now, I'm eager again to read more from them.
Profile Image for Freya Marske.
Author 13 books1,483 followers
October 17, 2018
I got to sink my teeth into an ARC of this one courtesy of (disclaimer) MY DEAR FRIEND ALEX, who has written a joyfully layered and frequently hilarious story about stories. And about storytellers. And about the power of narrative to alter reality, and what happens when one person wielding that power out of sheer survival instinct sets off a chain of events that takes apart a nation.

The sheer amount of imagination and attention to worldbuilding detail in this made me want to weep with jealousy, and the style of narration is so irreverent and fun (and unreliable) that it pulled me along effortlessly. I had a great time listening to Chant spin me this particular tale, and I suspect you will too.
196 reviews1 follower
November 18, 2018

The book didn't start becoming engrossing for me until about page 200, almost halfway through, and then I finished the rest in three days. Ugh.

I kept expecting the story to be different than what it ended up being. It has touches in its world-building that begs for the story to be an world-sweeping epic, but aside from the different stories Chant tells, the book stays in one country and its politics and quirks the entire time, and I kept waiting for the story to expand beyond the scope of this one country, but it never happened. And it's just one book, not one of a series. And I've been preferring one-offs! But something about this book makes me miffed that all this care and attention and detail went into all these other countries and peoples we'll never see and instead we spent the entire time in the fantasy equivalent of Yeltsin-and-Putin-era Russia, which, OK fine, but for whatever reason the fantasy version made me feel really irritated. Maybe because (given the book was publicized as a fantasy about "fake news"), the
actual politics bear a strong resemblance to both current U.S. politics and post-2000 Russian politics, which are ridiculous but horrifying to read about in real life and but the narrative-defying nature of these politics is irritating when it's in a book where you still have to hew to a narrative so that your story actually does something. So it feels like the fact that "this is a book with a narrative" but also "this countries' politics and its people are disinterested in or defy attempts at narratives" are in conflict with each other. IDK, I'm still trying to figure out why my primary emotion towards this book is annoyance.

The writing is good and the characters were fine. Maybe I'm getting old (lol) or maybe the luster of reading books about stories and storytelling has finally worn off for me, but all the bits and asides about that subject...it was fine, it wasn't shoehorned in, it wasn't clunky or overwrought, but I also didn't care very much.

Overall this book was one huge frustration for me, except it's hard for me to pin down exactly *why*, and of course it was a highly anticipated book that's been positively reviewed, so of course now I'm battling the feeling that the problem's on my end that I didn't like this book. Bah.
Profile Image for Justine.
1,103 reviews294 followers
March 21, 2020
3.5 stars

This is a well written and mostly well executed book. The story moves along nicely and there are a host of engaging characters. That said, it wasn't completely to my personal taste.

I'm not generally of books written with a humourous undertone; I don't mind occasional humour, but I'm not a fan of the low level continuous humour in the form of flippancy or sarcasm by the characters. I also found the generous use of f bombs just a little jarring. I'm not bothered by profanity generally, but most profanity is very culturally specific and I find in some SFF it can feel like it doesn't quite fit within the created world. That was essentially my problem with it here.

Despite my own issues, I know this will be an appealing read for lots of people, so if the summary sounds intriguing I would definitely recommend giving it a try.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,240 reviews219 followers
March 15, 2020
In a huge and interesting secondary world fantasy, a wandering storyteller and his apprentice find themselves in trouble in a far northern country with corrupt courts and even more corrupt politicians. Worse, the people of Nuryevet seem to be singularly lacking in imagination and appreciation of stories, putting Chant (a title, not a name, but the only name he gives) in a difficult situation as the book starts with him in prison, on trial for witchcraft.

The closest parallel I can draw here is that of Doctor Who, with an old man who doesn't carry money or weapons,who travels with a loyal companion and gets by with wits and forging the people around him into players in his own narrative. Also on star is the power of story to get to the heart of people's emotions and motivations, particularly with a story that guides or teaches (or more cynically, manipulates).

The setting itself is very interesting with some very different concepts of social relationships, particularly of marriage. It also has a lot to say about the evolution of a country through politics, economics and law, and how all of those are actually just more stories that people tell each other. All of which is demonstrable when a mastery storyteller gets involved. The episode title of te Be the Serpent podcast (of which the author is a co-host) that talks about this book is even titled "Believing the Little Lies", which is a reference to Terry Pratchett's Hogfather where Death and Susan are talking about these things.
Profile Image for Chris.
66 reviews1 follower
August 8, 2019
What I liked:
- The worldbuilding in general. I appreciated the uniqueness of it, and I truly felt I understood the country as if it were a real place.
- The relationship between Chant and Ylfing. I love asshat characters who try to talk their way out of trouble, and I also love it when they're paired with ray of sunshine characters. Their reunion was easily my favorite part of the book. (I also have a soft spot for fake fortune telling.)

What I disliked:
- The pace. I've enjoyed long books before, but I really felt the length of this book. If I'm being honest, I almost abandoned it a few times. I never felt any kind of tension, especially since most of the story was told to us rather than shown. And yes, I understand that's the point, since the book's theme is about the power of telling stories, but since Chant hears almost everything secondhand, I never felt engrossed.
- The "tales." I wanted to like them so much, but by the end of the book, I ended up skimming. Another reader might enjoy their thematic significance, but for me, they just slowed down the book.

If you like books heavy on politics and theme, fantastic, but this wasn't the book for me. (Still, I'll admit I'm tempted by an Ylfing-narrated standalone sequel...)
Profile Image for Rosie.
169 reviews
December 2, 2018
will update with THOUGHTS when i am not INCONSOLABLE over there being NO MORE OF THIS BOOK to put STRAIGHT INTO MY EYEBALLS
Author 6 books27 followers
October 28, 2018
Take one desperate, curmudgeonly old storyteller on trial for witchcraft. Add one undermotivated and deeply unimpressed lawyer who just wants to go home to her wives and husband. Pepper with a sprinkling of paranoid, trigger-happy nominally-elected fantasy despots and stir vigorously with the aide of some, shall we say, 'creative' storytelling. Garnish with the softest, most precious apprentice to never deserve the disaster about to befall him and everyone he cares about - and now you have A Conspiracy of Truths.

I can't possibly convey the gems hidden between these covers - go read the sample pages, and you'll get a glimpse of what I mean. Chant's voice is incorrigible and impossible to put down. His foes are, by turns, ridiculous and terrifying. The consequences of his actions are chilling and the way his stories spiral out of his control is a terrifying reflection of our own society. The stories themselves are perfect jewels of fairytale, at once alien and somehow deeply familiar. And every single character has a heart and a core that leaps off the page.

Put your hours in Rowland's hands. You won't regret it.
Profile Image for Lauren James.
Author 16 books1,418 followers
November 2, 2018
An old man is trapped in prison, accused of witchcraft. An old man who has spent his life learning how to tell stories, and manipulate perceptions. An old man who will do anything to get free. An old man, who single-handedley manages to take down an entire government from a prison cell.....
Profile Image for sigaloenta.
467 reviews19 followers
December 4, 2018
Perhaps I'm being a bit hard on this book, only giving it three stars, because after a rocky beginning it was pretty enjoyable: well-written, well-paced, with reasonably engaging characters, a narrator who turned out to be not as irritating as he at first appeared, and moderately interesting themes. It's certainly much better on a technical level (on any technical level you like) than most other speculative fiction being published right now.

Moderately interesting themes -- the power of stories, the contingencies of politics and randomness of history, the complicatedness of people -- but not all of them were done in a very interesting way. The last was. This book is unusual and outstanding in recent fantasy for its cast of truly mixed characters: no heroes here (well, except for the protagonist and his apprentice), no saints (again, largely excepting these two), but no villains for whom we don't also feel a shred of admiration or sympathy, and no engaging sympathetic character whom we don't also see full of sins -- and not just romantic antihero, "gray and gray" morality sins either. I mean stupidity, short-sightedness, the ability to self-delude-- the sort of flaws that fantasy novels usually pretend don't exist or treat with the utmost disdain when they do.

The other themes, however... this is a novel that thinks it has a lot of Deep Things to say about stories and the power of stories. Unfortunately, it doesn't, really. Yes, yes, stories have the power to change minds. People hear what they already believe or want to believe to be true. Tales can be Truer than the mere truth. These kind of truisms flatter the reader and writer both, so I understand why they are deployed (stories are powerful, dontcha know! Especially the ones we tell ourselves!) But there was nothing new here.

Too easily, for a novel that purports to be about complexity and contingency, Chant quickly becomes central and all-contriving in the political landscape (surely there are other peddlers of stories to the powerful, even in Nuryvet?) and the narrative loses a lot of interest in the second half as it becomes apparent where Chant is and whom he is narrating to-- and therefore how this story must end. Ultimately, Rowland gave us a narrator whose schtick is storytelling, but didn't allow any of that vaunted power to spill over into the story he was telling us. And that's unfortunate.
Profile Image for Merit.
182 reviews1 follower
January 18, 2020
Arrested on false accusations of witchcraft and spycraft, Chant finds himself lost in a corrupt and decayed bureaucratic nightmare, with the threat of death (or freezing in his cell) growing more likely with every day. But Chant is from a long time of storytellers and senses an opportunity... Ambitious and intricate, Rowland acknowledges the deeply unreliable narrator Chant but it still a fascinating and interesting story. Loved the worldbuilding (my old weakness) and the red herrings at the very beginning of the book were brilliant. The sequel looks like it will follow Chant's apprentice, Ylfing, deeply romantic boy and he reconciles with his ethics and life.
Profile Image for Olosta.
140 reviews3 followers
November 19, 2019
It is not often that I come across a fantasy book that is so original, yet so well written.

I aplaud the author for the choices she made in her narrative and world-building, and in the developement of her characters. All of them, even the ones who only come up for a shorter time, are three dimensional, interesting and engaging.

The background on which Rowland built her world is well researched, and takes as a point of origin one of my favourite mythological archetypes ever - the trickster - combined with an unreliable narrator, so who am I to complain?

5 starts and no regrets.
Profile Image for Lata.
3,434 reviews180 followers
April 30, 2020
Chant wanders from country to country, collecting stories. He lacks weapons, save his voice and the huge number of tales in his head. While travelling through Nuryevan with his apprentice Ylfling, Chant (not his name, but his title/job description) is apprehended and charged with witchcraft. This is a serious charge, and though cleared, Chant is subsequently charged with a greater offence, treason, and awaits execution. Meanwhile, the political situation and already existing corruption worsens around him, as the distrust each ruling Queen holds for the others worsens, with many a nudge by Chant himself, as he manipulates each Queen against the other, from his jail cell, and demonstrates how, much like Doctor Who does, that words alone, and stories, can be terrible and terribly powerful.
This is a story about the power of story, about storytelling as a superpower. Chant uses his voice and his storytelling skillfully to capture the imaginations of those around him. He effectively twists suspicions and beliefs, and rips alliances, political systems and power structures apart brilliantly. Alexandra Rowland's prose is frequently funny, with Chant’s ramblings. and effectively timed ravings, pointing out the weaknesses, double standards, corruption, lies and inequalities in the society around him. Chant is scary, for all he seems to be just an old man. This guise subverts everyone’s expectations, including his apprentice Ylfling's, and left me both chilled and laughing by the time I got to the end of this complicated, deep and deeply funny book.
Profile Image for Doctor Science.
265 reviews16 followers
February 10, 2019
A complex and audacious first novel. The protagonist is an admitted asshole, but it's not (as I at first feared) because the author thinks assholes are especially interesting. It's because she's writing him as an unreliable (though highly-skilled) narrator, which is a REALLY hard sell. Making the protagonist off-putting is necessary to get us, the readers, enough distance to accept the unreliability.

Excellent and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Hani ♡.
36 reviews
Want to read
June 9, 2022
Dnf at 45%.I really tried to like this book and it’s very well written book but not to my taste. It wasn’t interesting enough to keep me engaged. It seems like nothing was happening 🤦🏽‍♀️and that’s definitely all on me. Because there was hell a lot going on.
May be in future I’ll pick this book again because i love Ylfing.
Profile Image for Eva.
477 reviews13 followers
November 29, 2021
I wish there was a genre name for this particular kind of quiet fantasy that uses minimal action, and that instead relies on character work and their slow, clever moves across a political chessboard to create an engaging story.
Profile Image for Leo.
4,177 reviews367 followers
December 4, 2021
This was a cover read. Been seeing it on my book app and the cover have always intrigued me and I finally decided to read it to see if the content was as good. Luckily it was! A very entertaining and engaging story!
Profile Image for Nicholas Kotar.
Author 37 books233 followers
January 14, 2019
DNF. Not enough to keep me interested. Initially, both main characters were interesting. But there's simply not enough going on to keep me engaged.
Profile Image for Alan.
90 reviews7 followers
March 8, 2020
It's taken me a while to review this one, though I absolutely adored it and tore through it. Part of that was due to general business, but it was also because this book was so thoughtful, so deliberate, and so subtly complex, that I felt it deserved a proper consideration of its themes rather than me simply rambling about how much I loved it (retrospectively, this review is still pretty rambly).

The story, which is rather many stories within one, concerns a deceptively simple premise: an itinerant storyteller is arrested under suspicion of practicing black magic, and must use his only available resource--storytelling itself--to free himself and argue his case. What follows is an intricately woven tapestry that deals with the power of words, the nature of perspective, propaganda, and the responsibility of the storyteller. It's a book I wish I could encourage my students to read to foster reflection and critical thinking.

This book surprised me on so many levels. I had already wanted to read it since first hearing about it, but I wasn't expecting the level of humour Rowland brings to the page. Although it's certainly humour of the laugh out loud variety, it's also at turns a very dark, exacting kind that seeps under your skin as effortlessly as Rowland's words seem to the page.

I'm usually not one to compliment voice, if only because "voice" so often becomes shorthand (at least in fantasy) for a particular kind of univocal fantasy hero(ine). Here though, I have to say, Rowland's protagonist, Chant, has such an immediate and commanding presence that I hesitate to call it anything else. I was sunk right away into Chant's barbed and often circuitous way of recounting his story. Every sentence is rich with Chant's personality, his foibles, his desires--it's all so indelibly him. That depth of characterization is so rare, and is rendered even moreso when it comes to the complex layering of not only Chant's character, but the characterization (via Chant) of the secondary and tertiary cast. Though we're never for a moment outside Chant's descriptions of the people he describes (even the stories told by others--and there are plenty--are all skillfully understood by Rowland as third-hand narratives related by the other characters through Chant's appreciation of their talents, or lack thereof), the personalities of the rest of the cast all shine through. That's a strength of characterization I hardly ever see, and speaks to a level of attention to detail and real knowledge and understanding of how people simply are that I can only hope to achieve in my own writing. Hats off.

The story also barrels along. At a certain point, I had a very hard time putting this one down, and considering that for the most part it takes place in a cell, that's pretty impressive. Rowland needs none of the usual cheap devices to create a sense of tension and unease in the reader. Suspense is produced through a deep engagement with character, and the overarching sense of doom that pervades the work. The Sword of Damocles hangs above not only Chant's head, but seems to threaten the lives of everyone around him. It's a level of tension that reminds me of the way I felt reading (and even re-reading) A Song of Ice and Fire.

There's a maturity to the themes Rowland engages with here that I also feel deserves comment. There are no easy answers in Conspiracy, no black and white representations of morality. Rowland rather sees culture as complex and shifting, as sensitive to individual influence as it is to collective ones, as shaped by forces that initially appear external, but are as deeply embedded within a given society as are its obviously internal elements.

If my comments seem vague it's because the best part of Conspiracy lies in its unfolding as you read. The intricacies I gesture to are ones best experienced through the process of reading itself.

This is precisely where I've been hoping to see fantasy go, and hope Rowland's work is a harbinger of good things to come in a genre I love, but which is too often taken over by simplistic trends and cliches.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
394 reviews8 followers
December 25, 2020
This book was not on my radar until it was selected as a book of the month for the r/Fantasy GR bookclub. It's a book about the power of story, which is a bit on the nose, but still a pretty enjoyable read.

Our main character is Chant, more of a title or job description than a name. An itinerant storyteller who has roamed the fictional world, Chant excels at picking up languages and reading people. Well usually. After trying to help an ill goat (I think it was a goat), Chant is arrested as a suspected Blackwitch and thrown in jail. A stranger in a strange land, his trial goes poorly. And that's when things get interesting.

Written with a fairly tight cast of characters, our story revolves around Chant, his apprentice Ylfling, his lawyer Consanza, and the elected rulers of several of Nuryavet's political factions. Chant is confined in various prisons for the majority of the book but still manages to use his abilities as a storyteller to effect change in some pretty clever ways.

I enjoyed this book, but something kept me from loving it and I'm not sure what. I love books that are more character than action and I am into political maneuvering. I like older protagonists. This book had all of that going for it. That being said, it was a glacially slow read for me. It took me about 3 weeks to read this, which is really unusual. Because of the pacing issues, I'm not rushing to pick up the sequel, but I can't say I'd refuse to read it either.
Profile Image for Sheila.
922 reviews82 followers
November 30, 2019
4 stars--I really liked it.

What incredible characterization! Chant is both stupid and genius, canny and foolish, oblivious and aware. He's fascinating in the way the best unreliable narrators are. And my god does he make a mess of everything! I adored both Ylfing and Consanza too--really, all the characters were well rounded and interesting.

And the stories! There are several stories within the framing tale--Chant is a storyteller, after all.

My only small quibble with this book is, since most of it takes place inside a prison, that sometimes the action felt contained. However this is minor, and I'm looking forward to the next book featuring Ylfing.
Profile Image for Julia Fowler .
121 reviews4 followers
January 16, 2020
What was this book even about? Nothing happened! At all. I thought something would for the first half of it so I kept reading then ended up skipping large sections of it and still felt like I got the gist of what was going on, which was basically the synopsis you can read on the back of the book. What genre was this book? It was wannabe fantasy with no fantastical elements that was wannabe dystopian futuristic sci-fi that was wannabe satirical political commentary but was all actually just bad with poor, incongruous language choices throughout. Do you want to read a good book with a plot? Then definitely don’t waste your time with this book and get something else.
Profile Image for Lila (derricoreads).
281 reviews13 followers
May 26, 2019
I did some hardcore skimming of this book. Did not care about the characters or even how it ended. Nothing about this 400+ page book of rambling pulled me in.
Profile Image for Hart_D (ajibooks).
355 reviews8 followers
December 25, 2019
Amazing book. I can't get over how sharp the characterizations are. It's a long book because a lot happens, but this author conveys just incredible amounts of info in a few words.

I'm sure this has been compared to Pratchett, because it's socially conscious fantasy written in non-flowery language, with a decent amount of humor, and an unlikely hero. I liked it better than anything I've read by him.

There wasn't anything I didn't like, but I didn't always sympathize with the main character. I don't think I was supposed to. That's what I found most special about the book: it's really easy to imagine all the action from other characters' perspectives, which kind of drives home the point about Chant's skills. This book has layers, and I'm sure I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

I liked the format, with stories breaking up the main narrative. It reminded me somewhat of American Gods.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by James Langton, and he was exceptionally good.
Profile Image for Emma (howlsmovinglibrary).
312 reviews51 followers
November 14, 2019
A Conspiracy of Truths was definitely a fantasy book that doesn’t really feel like fantasy. In the opening third of the book I wasn’t entirely sure why I kept reading, because nothing seemed to be happening – but I guess that’s kind of the point. Chant, the protagonist, is a storyteller by trade, and his voice is crafted in such a way that you want to keep reading and listening to what he has to say even when you’re not quite sure where it’s going to lead.

A political intrigue fantasy that is basically narrated by someone who doesn’t care about political intrigue, who also doesn’t see half of what is happening because he’s locked in a cell, I imagine this book was really challenging to write, and at points it’s challenging to read. The story is essentially about how small things initially snowball into much larger, cataclysmic events, which means it’s exceptionally slow paced, although it does have a very satisfying payoff once things start to really get going. I think where it excelled was making me feel really invested in the core group of characters – Chant, his solicitor, and his apprentice in particular – so that I was basically just willing to read on to discover more about their relationships in the slower chapters. I also loved all the small stories that Chant, as a storyteller, wove into his narrative. And Chant’s the fun kind of unreliable narrator who isn’t necessarily evil, he’s just a bit of a dick, unwilling to let you know when he really cares. The writing style made it obvious when he was repressing some information or emotion.

What I also appreciated was how casually the worldbuilding was laced through the first person story, and how unashamedly queer it all was. Chant argues that part of a storyteller’s job is to understand people, so we learn quite a bit about those who visit him and the country in which he finds himself imprisoned. Many of these characters are queer, and the country itself has a marriage system that is both polyamorous and also completely unconcerned with gender. While romance wasn’t a huge concern of the plot, I think all featured romantic relationships were queer in some respect. People who are fans of worldbuilding heavy books and secondary fantasy worlds which do away with the assumptions of our society will definitely love this story.

A Conspiracy of Truths might not be for everyone because it is a very slowburn, worldbuilding heavy story with minimal action. But it was also cleverly written, unique in its setting, and super freaking gay.

Original review on Howl's Moving Library
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