Kalina and her brother Jovan are descended from a long line of proofers: poison-tasters that are tasked with the protection of the Chancellor and his family. As the eldest sibling, protecting the heir should have been Kalina’s job, but her disability causes her to be sickly, and the mantle was passed from her to Jovan.
Prevented from following her destiny by the harsh physical requirements of being a proofer, Kalina turns her focus to learning. When the unthinkable poisoning of the Chancellor occurs, Kalina quickly finds herself in the position of investigator. Her extensive knowledge of other cultures, poisons, and history prove on multiple occasions to be superior to that of the heir and Jovan.
I couldn’t attend a Council meeting, fight in a battle, or protect Tain from poison, but I had my own skills, and perhaps they were more suited to finding an enemy than even my brother’s.
It’s clear that Kalina’s greatest weakness is in fact, by far, her strongest attribute. People continually undermine Kalina in City of Lies by writing her off as inferior and weak (even her own brother). And while sometimes she is confined to bed rest, she never wastes a moment to expand her knowledge and connect the clues. Certainly, flying under the radar of the powerful never hurt anyone attempting to act as a spy. Whatever Kalina lacks in physical prowess, she makes up for tenfold in cunning intelligence and a relentless drive of determination.
In fact, because of her disability, Kalina serves to undermine the typical sword-and-crown epic fantasy tropes. Rather than focusing on an entire country, City of Lies stays almost entirely within the city limits of Silasta, with only briefs trips outside. Political intrigue and mystery are the driving forces of the plot—much of it subtly nudged forward by Kalina’s guiding hand. She is fearless in her search for answers, even at her own risk, and repeatedly goes above anyone’s expectations in order to bring her home, and her people, closer to a solution.
All of this and more serves to make Kalina one of the strongest characters in City of Lies. She’s a courteous leader, a viciously intelligent student, and possesses an intense willpower that brings her to the darkest parts of the city—and beyond. The challenges she faces are daunting, but if there’s one person who could ever outwit them, it’s Kalina.
Kalina serves as a smart reminder for readers and writers everywhere: never underestimate your opponent.
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