Liar, Liar, Books on Fire! The Liar Revealed Trope and Two Books That Do It Well



Spoilers ahead.

The Liar Revealed Trope. You’ve seen it before. It’s when something happens in the first act of the story that forces the protagonist to lie about their identity, their abilities, or anything else that provides the driving tension moving forward.

Think about every movie where the protagonist accidentally saves the day only to be lauded as a hero that they really aren’t and then are expected to save the day again in the third act–only they do because now the plot requires it.

Think about every story where the main character lies about their identity/sets themselves up as something better/different than what they are and perpetuated the lie until it is exposed in the third act and they have to redeem their character and save the day.

I hate this trope. I’ve always hated it. It’s cheap, it’s stupid. It’s usually something I can’t relate to or something I think is totally unnecessary. You know how the story will end before the first act is even over–and if your movie isn’t distractingly pretty like Avatar, you have no business being so predictable.

Before we move on, let me assure you that I have yet to express just how much I hate this trope.

I have DNF’d books because of this trope. I have tossed out DVDs because of it. I think it’s almost never done well and it’s an insult to readers and audiences everywhere.

I want to throw this trope into the sun. 

alt=gif of superman flying towards the sun
Go Superman! Go!

Let’s talk about Marissa Meyer’s CINDER and Roshani Chokshi’s THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. Both of these books rely heavily on the Liar Revealed trope (or, as I’ll mention below, the Third Act Misunderstanding trope).

Followers on Twitter and expertly-timed blog readers may notice that I swooned over both of these several times while reading. Even though it’s always clear this trope is in use by the end of the first act, I still loved it.

Why? Well, I think they actually handled it well. I wasn’t enraged by the end of the book and I thought they both used the trope in a way that wasn’t insulting to the reader.

CINDER is a Cinderella retelling so you know you have to put up with some amount of deception. Now, to be fair, Cinder’s deception might fall more appropriately under the Third Act Misunderstanding trope, which is very similar to Liar Revealed (and is what the Cinderella story typically uses).

I think your read on this depends on how much Cinder’s failure to tell the prince who/what she is drives the story forward. I think it has a big impact, because there isn’t enough casual racism against cyborgs in Cinder’s life for me to be convinced that it really exists. There’s one incident with the market lady, the prince sort of winces at a scan of a cyborg, and the draft (and, again, we hardly see the kind of commonplace disdain for cyborgs that the draft would be built upon if a deadly plague WEREN’T ravaging the population). If anything, Cinder has a considerable advantage over others BECAUSE she is a cyborg. Since we don’t meet any other cyborgs, I don’t know how difficult it is for them to function in this society, either.

Basically, I was not convinced that Cinder NEEDED to keep her cyborg-ness a secret and the fact that she does drives many of HER actions in the plot. Besides, she’s exposed as a liar in the end, which is less misunderstanding and more “I withheld information and now there are ten pages left in the book so we have literally no time to address it.”

So, Liar Revealed.

And, because I read CINDER and THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN at the same time and they both have this element of deception and reveal in the third act, I want to talk about them together.

The Star-Touched Queen’s liar is, in a rare twist, not the protagonist. It’s Amar. Again, I think Amar’s reasons are poorly explained–there was one line about how mortals couldn’t handle the knowledge but he couldn’t even tell her that he was Death? She found that out and her brain didn’t explode. I also thought he sounded really, really creepy in the first two thirds with his confessions of love to her–and that Maya has absolutely zero reaction to these is a post for another day–and that some explanation was required and not given.

Sure, Amar and Gupta are physically unable to tell her secrets but to lie about the nature of the realm and what Amar does there? Again, she finds out when she eavesdrops and sees him judging the dead. No explody brains. No reason not to tell her in the first place. If this story was going for an Indian mythology take on the Persephone story (and I haven’t confirmed it was or wasn’t), why not be as truthful as possible?

Again, because this drives the plot forward and sets up the events of the third act, I would consider this a Liar Revealed trope but others may easily view it as another Third Act Misunderstanding.

So, why don’t I hate these stories?

alt=gif from Beauty and the Beast where Gaston flips through Belle's book and asks, "How can you read this? There are no pictures."
How can you read this? There are no tired cliches or one-dimensional characters!

CINDER: The prince reacts poorly. 

The most frustrating thing about the Liar Reveal is there’s usually little time to process the magnitude of the lie but, usually, by the end, the liar is forgiven and all is well.

Not in CINDER!

Cinder’s reveal is dramatic to the max–in front of the Lunar Queen, she’s basically falling apart and revealed as cyborg AND Lunar all in one go. And Kai is having none of it. He’s hurt, he’s confused and he hates Lunars. So he imprisons her.

I fully expected a scene where Kai comes to visit Cinder and you know what I mean. He comes to ask why. Why did she hurt him so? Why did she lie? Blah, blah, blah he ultimately forgives her and they decide to kill the Lunar Queen like BAMFs.

Except he doesn’t. Kai’s basically fine with sending Cinder back to the moon (only because he doesn’t know she’s the lost princess and there is no opportunity to safely get that info to him). Cinder’s lie AND reveal have deep, meaningful consequences for the plot and the characters.

THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN: Maya is complicit in the mistake that caused Amar to lie to her.

The memory-explanation sequence was a little bit rushed for me, but I was expecting Maya’s previous reincarnation to be basically blameless in that whole mess. Maybe that was the intention, but I read it as a very interesting and complex interaction between two fully fleshed out characters. Not only are Amar and pre-Maya Maya believable as a strong couple, but when Maya’s arrogance leaves Amar in an awkward position, it’s her own pride that leads to their fight. I don’t believe that Amar should have backed her unconditionally–I do believe he should have warned her of his decision, so he did still mess up. When they blow up at each other, it’s Maya who starts the process of events that lead to the story we just read (and Amar who is unable to tell her the truth initially because mystical reasons).

Because Maya takes a pretty dramatic step walking into the reincarnation pool, so she’s as much complicit in generating the lie as Amar is. She’s not a victim and she’s able to forgive Amar in a way that doesn’t seem empty.

I’m not sure how the universe conspired to let me read these two at the same time (CINDER in paperback and THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN via audiobook, which is definitely how I would recommend it), but I’m really glad I did. I loved them both, I can’t wait to read the rest of the Lunar Chronicles from Meyer and anything else Roshani Chokshi publishes. It was a treat to see these two stories handle something that usually leaves me severely disappointed in two different and yet fulfilling ways.

I have hope for fiction tropes yet.










Author: V. Kane

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is ANATHEMA, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @ValkyrieWriting or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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