the Little Red Reviewer

short reviews of historical fantasy from Parker and de Bodard

Posted on: June 2, 2019

These two books have nothing in common except I read them a few weeks ago, and never got around to writing a review of either one. But I want to write something about them before I forget them entirely. . .  this blog is, after all, my way of remembering the books that I have read.


So here are two super quick reviews of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker (2019), and Servant of the Underworld by Aliette de Bodard (2010).


Wait, wait, i just realized these books do have something in common – they both take place in historical fantasy settings. So there you go.

A paperback of Servant of the Underworld has been sitting on my bookshelf since I have no idea when.  My husband read it and enjoyed it, so I decided to give it a try too. It was a little weird to get into, but once I got on board for the characters and the world, I was all in.  This is a historical fantasy that takes place in the Aztec Empire in the 1400s. The main character, Acatl, is the high priest of the dead, and he does all this very cool stuff with literally going to the land of the dead, keeping the guardians of the dead in the land of the dead, where they belong. He has a strained relationship with his brother, who is a famous soldier.  Acatl’s younger sister, a priestess in training, keeps trying to get the brothers to reconcile. A strange murder takes place, and if Acatl gets drawn into the investigation. It’s so easy to blame the woman who hated the dead woman, but that would be a literal cop-out.  Acatl knows there is something more going on here.


I enjoyed this book, a lot.  It is fast paced and I loved the characters.  There is this underlying subplot that Acatl actually isn’t a very good head priest.  He doesn’t make the effort to get to know the other men who work at the Temple, he’s a total introvert. I also liked learning about his relationship with his brother, and their history.  Did Acatl join the priesthood to avoid becoming a warrior? Is his life’s work as worthy as what his brother does? There are not that many novels that deal with adult siblings who are still trying to get past their differences, I found that plot element refreshing.  the magic is also hella cool!


I liked this book enough to buy the sequel.  If you are a fan of historical mysteries, and/or urban fantasy mysteries, you’ll probably like Servant of the Underworld.  I’m kicking myself that I’ve had this book on my shelf for how many years? And i just now read it?


I received a review copy of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker.  This was a fun read, and there is this delicious twist at the end that made the book impossible to put down for the last 80 pages or so.  Parker is known for snark and unreliable narrators, so if you enjoy that style, you’ll probably enjoy this book.


The main character, Orhan, is a military engineer.  He’s also of a minority ethnic group. His unit trusts his engineering skills implicitly, and they basically go around the empire building and fixing bridges and roads, and making the sure the infrastructure is always in good enough condition so that the rest of the armed forces can get to wherever they need to go. War with neighboring Empires is ongoing and endless, to the point where border villages can’t keep track of what their nationality is.


When the city is under siege from the enemy,  Orhan decides to take his Engineering corps to the city and build up their defences.  As it happens, Orhan also has plenty of black market friends there, giving him the ability to forge documents, print money, and generally get shit done faster than any honest military man.  Before he knows is, Orhan takes literal control of the city. And really, all he wants to do is backwards engineer the enemy’s war engines, and see if his crazier engineering ideas will work.  As someone with the mind of an engineer, i got a chuckle out of his crew’s commentary on the insanity of trebuchets.


I mentioned that Orhan is of an ethnic minority. By the end of the book, everyone in the City knows his name, but very few people know what he looks like. There is a scene where he is resting by a fountain after a battle, and a guard comes up to him and basically says “get away from that fountain, that’s for blue people only”, and Orhan apologizes and backs away.  That scene did just about kill me.


People who are most likely to enjoy Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City are people who have read very little, or no Parker titles before.  First person POV, snark, sarcasm, banter, unreliable narrators, twist at the end, that is what Parker does. That seems to be all that Parker does.  This novel was fun, but it was also predictable. It was a beach read. Did I enjoy the banter, laugh at the snark, and appreciate the twist?  Yes. I did.  But still, this book felt like every other Parker book I’ve ever read.


4 Responses to "short reviews of historical fantasy from Parker and de Bodard"

Now I feel dumb. I had the whole trilogy that Servant takes place in and sold it to half price books a while back. Just hadn’t had the chance to read. Looks awesome. But now it’s pricier and the library doesn’t have it on ILL. Sad face.


go back to half price and see if you can buy it back! these books are getting really hard to find! de Bodard’s work has really found an audience, I am hoping her older stuff gets reprinted.


Both on my list!! *salute* 😀


I’ve just started “Sixteen Ways…” and I’m absolutely loving it! Thanks for sending it forward my way. I’m only a chapter in but I am loving the narrative voice. It reminds me of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” which I just adore.

I also read “Servant of the Underworld” twice (!!) now. I liked it a -lot- more the first time. The second time was the audiobook and for some reason they picked someone with an English accent to read it. It was incredibly jarring trying to immerse myself in Mesoamerica with some guy reading like its a Sherlock Holmes mystery.

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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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