A Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast spends his last moments fighting for the girl of his dreams in One Word Kill, an upcoming television adaptation of Mark Lawrence’s grimdark Young Adult (YA) epic. Holly Phillips is showrunner, Deadline reports, with Synchronicity Films and Erik Barmack’s Wild Sheep co-producing. Phillips had previously adapted Gretchen McNeil’s Don’t Get Mad for BBC iPlayer.
“One Word Kill captures the joy and the messiness of being a teenager,” Phillips writes. “It’s about finding your tribe and the sacrifices you’ll make for them once you’ve found them. I can’t wait to bring it to life.” Synchronicity Films founder and creative director Claire Mundell seconds Phillips, admitting she was hired on account of her work on Get Even. She elaborates: “Erik’s understanding of the global scripted marketplace is second to none, and we are genuinely thrilled to be working with him to bring Mark’s addictive book trilogy to the screen. This story has it all: fantasy, high stakes, romance — and Dungeons and Dragons. With her incredible track record of creating award-winning shows, Holly is the perfect writer to adapt these fantasy novels for a YA audience.”
The show spans all three books in the Impossible Times trilogy — One Word Kill, Limited Wish, Dispel Illusion — released in 2019. Mark Lawrence’s YA series tells the curiously confounding case of Nick Hayes, a teen prodigy who spends his every waking moment playing Dungeons & Dragons with friends. He begins reassessing life and everything he has worked toward when he is diagnosed with leukemia at 15; the prognosis is abysmal. He is not expected to live much longer.
Then, fate intervenes: a girl named Mia joins Nick’s D&D group and she is as entrancing as she is a mystery. It would have been your standard “boy meets girl, boy falls for girl” storyline if not for world-ending shenanigans suddenly taking over. A man reveals Mia is in danger, only for reality to start mimicking — with startling accuracy — the tabletop fantasy Nick and his friends have been playfully immersed in. Fantasy becomes all too real and Nick decides to spend what little time he has left grappling with physics that no longer apply, madmen and knife murderers, and the ticking timebomb that has become his life — all for one final shot at romance. One Word Kill is set in 1986.
While Mark Lawrence certainly isn’t, One Word Kill is a fairly new addition to science fantasy, incorporating elements of Dungeons & Dragons with speculative fiction. Grimdark readers describe the series as an alluring mix of Stranger Things and Ready Player One, and on the surface, it definitely applies; Stranger Things is an urban sprawl set in the 1980s about a group of plucky young teenagers struggling to survive life, love, and eldritch monsters at an era when aliens seemed the most defensible explanation for everything. Ready Player One is a more modernized take on the premise, switching out tabletop games for computer games, and all the tropes and recognizable names associated with the genre. The novel by Ernest Cline is also a dystopian tale, but with video game rules and virtual reality.
One Word Kill is as much a YA spectacle as it is a fantasy and science fiction meld, and was aptly described by publisher Jack Butler as the quintessential dream of many adolescents, especially those with ambitions far too chimerical to be constrained by real-world politics, social norms, and laws of physics. The books use the metaphor of the die as a prism through which to tell Nick Hayes’s story; life rolled a one and he got cancer. Life rolled a double six and he met Mia, his one last shot at happiness. But life also rolled in the negatives, and now he is forced to contend with a world that no longer makes sense to him.
One World Kill is all about luck, impermanence, and coincidence — just like how tossing the coin is considered justice by Harvey Dent in Batman — and rather than balk at the challenge, Nick chooses to roll the dice one more time and see what lies ahead, beyond the abyss he was already tragically tethered to. Impossible Times includes elements of empirical science, like advanced mathematics, to drill the point home Nick is no ordinary prodigy either. Mark Lawrence himself is something of a whiz kid, having worked 20 years’ worth of jobs with secret-level clearance as a research scientist, where he specialized in artificial intelligence.
Wild Sheep’s Eric Barmack used to be a Netflix executive and knows a winning story when he sees one. And One Word Kill is precisely that. “Claire and her team are experts at producing drama that is watched around the world,” he tells Deadline. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to be partnering with her and Mark on this unique YA project.” Game of Thrones creator George R. R. Martin reportedly “enjoyed the hell” out of the first book, currently a Goodreads Choice Award finalist.