the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘K.J. Parker’ Category

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.

 

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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!)

 

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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.

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I’ve been on a short stuff kick lately. Short stories, short novels, novellas.  There’s just something about knowing I can get through an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end in a weekend.  It’s not that I’m not reading fatty mcfat doorstopper novels, but these days they don’t hold as much allure  (except this one, of course).

 

Anyhoo, I recently zipped through these new novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker. They were so quick to read in fact, that I was able to read them twice!  Downfall of the Gods by Parker came out from Subterranean Press in late March, and Down and Out in Purgatory will be available in late June from Subterranean Press.  If you’re a fan of either of these authors, watch for these titles!

Downfall_of_the_Gods_by_K_J_Parker

 

Let’s start with the Parker, because of the two, it was my favorite.  Imagine a parallel ancient Rome or Greece, where a pantheon of gods keeps the sun crossing the sky, keeps the crops growing, and occasionally visits Earth in human form for entertainment.  What I most enjoyed about this story is that it’s from a Goddess’s point of view, and how the myths and what the humans believe the immortals do isn’t exactly the truth. The Greek mythology I grew up learning humanizes, but still idealizes Gods and Goddesses.  The Goddess at the center of Downfall of the Gods has her own family issues, the aunts and uncles who hate her, the stupid things she says to her parents. She gets in trouble for forgetting things, she gets “grounded”, she’s bored out of her mind.  I loved her as a character, even if she was a bit of an emo teenager.

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Sharps, by K.J. Parker

published July 2012, from Orbit Books

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher

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In the border country of Scheria, four talented fencers have been convinced (in many cases  blackmailed) into joining a new national fencing team. The team will travel into war-torn neighboring Permia on a mission of goodwill. it’s been years since the war, and perhaps now is the time to start a discussion between the two countries. If they can’t agree on trade policies or politics, perhaps they can agree to watch the sport everyone in Permia has been going crazy for – fencing.

The story focuses intimately around our four fencers: Suidas, the champion who drank his winnings away; Giraut, who is running from a date with the gallows; Addo, the useless youngest son of Scheria’s military hero; and Isuetz, the lone woman trying to escape an arranged marriage. And travelling with them are their fencing coach Phrantzes and Tzimisces, who is a fixer/political officer.  We know very little about everyone when the story starts, and by the time it ends, well, lets just say that everyone has secrets.

Ahh, the word fencing. It can mean so many things.  Parrying with swords. Selling stolen items. Foils and thefts aside, one can fence with words es well, luring someone into a false sense of security and then causing lethal pain without even drawing a blade.

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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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