the Little Red Reviewer

Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

Posted on: July 4, 2017

Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker

published June 30, 2017

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Subterranean Press!)









Recently out from Subterranean Press is K.J. Parker’s newest stand alone novella, Mightier than the Sword.  Parker fans will delight in the dry humor, banter, and plot twists of this fast paced story, while readers new to the Parker style may be left scratching their heads a bit yet at the same time itching to read the book again.  At 130 pages and mostly action and dialog, this novella can easily and happily be devoured in an afternoon.


Presented as a translation of a historical document from a nation that never existed, the environments presented here could be ancient Rome, could be early Britain, could be anywhere in between. The story may be fast paced, but it takes place  in a time when communication was as fast as the horse under the messenger and a two week journey in a wagon barely got you across the country.


Our unnamed narrator, the nephew of the Empress, is given a mission to discover just what the hell has been happening to the monasteries at the border of the country. Harried by pirates, burnt by raiders, no survivors, and hardly anything of worth has been stolen.  Is the empress trying to get one more heir killed? Is she trying to get him out of the capitol for some reason?  But off he goes on his errand, but not before proposing marriage to the woman he loves, after purchasing a house for them to live in and a doctor to save her life.


His rounds to the monasteries is also a convenient excuse to visit relatives he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Nobles who piss off the royal court can’t exactly be banished or excommunicated, so monasteries seem as good a prison for them as any other place – it’s cold,  boring, and out of the way. The abbots and abbesses tell our narrator who they think he can trust (no one), and what they think they know about who the raiders might be. Our narrator, wisely, pays close attention to what everyone says and  stays quiet about the knowledge he collects.  He has money to buy whatever he needs along the way, but more often than not, knowledge is of far greater value than coin.

What will he do once he figures out what’s going on? And possibly even more worrisome that pirates and raiders is what awaits him when he returns to the capitol.


Ripping along at a rocking pace, this is a novella easily read and even easier enjoyed. Banter, jokes, dry humor,  old grudges, courtly intrigue, and a love for knowledge and books is the glue that holds many of these characters together.  The scientist in my also loved the little bits about why countries that are heavy in monasteries are also heavy in flocks of sheep.



The only thing I found bothersome about Mightier than the Sword was the narrative voice. Don’t get me wrong, this is the kind of narrative voice I love, full of smarts, snark, and wit.  It was also a narrative voice that sounded familiar. I don’t know if this novella takes place in the same world as Downfall of the Gods, but our unnamed narrator could have been a reincarnation of that world weary Goddess who is the trigger of her culture’s decline.   Or maybe this is the voice Parker always writes in?


With an unnamed and sometimes unreliable narrator who plays his cards so close to his chest they might as well be tattooed on, Mightier Than the Sword reads a little like a Gene Wolfe.  And what is mightier than the sword? Why, the pen, of course. With which one can write books of knowledge and those extra special and highly persuasive letters that are of course, by no means, blackmail.


2 Responses to "Mightier Than the Sword, by K.J. Parker"

Happy Fourth, kiddo.


Thank you!! Did you go see any fireworks?


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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