I’ve noted before that K.J. Parker is a formulaic writer. He approaches each story with almost exactly the same blend of irony, fatalism, and humor. All his stories and novels have the same general feel. He gets away with it because it’s an effective formula, and because there’s just enough that’s new to maintain our interest. He also introduces substantial and thorough background information.
This collection contains the first non-fiction I’ve seen from Parker – detailed essays on siegecraft, armor, and weaponry. They echo the detail that comes through in his stories, and confirm that Parker has dug deeply into his topics; he’s not just looking things up on Wikipedia.
The stories work, in my view, better than the novels, because they provided more variability in setups and characters. The tone is consistent, but the scenery is more interesting. We also get some insight into the fairly vague magic system Parker has used in several pieces, and into the geography of Parker’s vague shared world.
It’s a bit of a mystery to me why I keep coming back to Parker, considering the criticisms above, but the fact is that while he is following a formula, he’s following it really well. I’d wish for a lot more variation in tone, but the rest of the stories and characters is compelling and well constructed. One problem in reviewing an anthology, unfortunately, is that the stories all run together. Because of the flat tone, no one story is particularly memorable. That said, my favorites were:
- A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong – largely because it deals with music, which is a bit of a change for Parker.
- Amor Vincit Omnia – because it digs a little deeper into the magic system the stories follow.
- The Sun and I – the most fully developed characters of the set, and an interesting look at the backstory to some of the other pieces.