I won’t rehash my overall view of K.J. Parker’s approach. I’ve done that in other reviews. Here, I’ll talk only about this book. In addition, this is the third book in a loosely related series, and I’ve not read the first two, but this does function well as a standalone book.
As always with Parker, the writing is excellent, the tone sardonic but appealing, the hero understated but engaging. As is also often the case, but ever more so here, the book is desperately in need of a map. The plot wanders across countries with abandon, especially in the final third, where we cross half a dozen countries in the span of a few pages, none carefully placed, and with no real sense of where in the world we are. The story clearly takes place in Parker’s larger universe, with recognizable nations like the Aram Chantat and Aram No Vei, but his preference for generic names (the City, the Empire) makes it very hard to place anything in context. He clearly recognizes and makes fun of his own tendencies here, but that doesn’t make things easier. (He also alludes in passing to earlier books such as The Fencer and Devices and Desires.)
As typical with Parker, the main joy here is not so much the plot as the journey – following along with the protagonist as he stumbles (or does he) his way through one difficulty after another. Late in the book, Parker raises some larger questions about intent and self-determination, but then drops them without any kind of resolution. The end of the book in general I found to be something of a letdown. Neither the protagonist’s arc nor that of his nation is really concluded; they both simply fizzle out in a disappointing coda.
Well written and engaging without breaking any new ground. Good for Parker diehards and newcomers; less so for casual fans.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.