Downfall of the Gods: K.J. Parker

★★★★

When I was in Oxford last weekend (in the Oxfam bookshop on St Giles, to be precise, which is extremely good; you must go), I found something remarkable: a K.J. Parker novella that I’d never even heard of before! Unable to believe my luck, I snaffled it and read it all in one go the following day. It was exactly what I needed: undemanding but witty, irreverent and smart in all the right ways. While, like most of Parker’s fiction, Downfall of the Gods has a Grecian tinge, it looks further back in time, beyond the days of the Byzantine-inspired empires in his Engineer and Two of Swords trilogies, to an older time, when men still have to worry about annoying the gods – and the gods themselves can’t always be trusted.

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The Two of Swords: K.J. Parker

★★★★½

The Two of Swords: Volume I

My next step with K.J. Parker should have been to continue the Engineer Trilogy, but it just so happened that I had time to kill on the evening I bought this book, and couldn’t resist starting it. In fact, Parker’s novels all seem to take place in the same world, so it didn’t even feel like straying. The Two of Swords has only confirmed my admiration for him as a writer. I’d go so far as to say I love his books. They’re knotty, cynical, pragmatic fantasy without a hint of magic, and the general flavour is what you might get if Machiavelli settled down to write an alternate-universe version of the Byzantine Empire. Stuffed full of double-bluffs and double-agents, this series takes us into the heart of a long-lasting war, spurred on by the personal enmity between the opposing generals – who also happen to be brothers. Two brothers; two armies; two empires; and one secret international fraternity, who may not be as neutral as they’ve always claimed to be…

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Devices and Desires: K.J. Parker

★★★★½

The Engineer Trilogy: Book I

With a long trip looming, I was hunting for the perfect book: something with engaging characters, brilliant world-building and a plot I could really get my teeth into. Fate must have been listening, because it brought me face to face with this unassuming-looking volume. For the last week, this has been my constant companion: a deliciously rich tale of intrigue and vengeance; love, loyalty and friendship; and clashing cultures. It’s shelved under fantasy because it takes place in a place not registered on any map of our world, but there isn’t a speck of magic in it. Anchored in technological experimentation and political strife, this is a superb story of human ambition – and how one small act can ripple out to bring down civilisations and change history for ever.

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The Devil You Know: K.J. Parker

★★★★

This is the first story I’ve read by K.J. Parker; or rather, the first I’ve read under that name. For K.J. Parker, as everyone now knows, is a pseudonym of Tom Holt, the author of gleeful comic novels set in Ancient Greece, and (as Thomas Holt) the slightly less successful Viking epic Meadowland. I’ve enjoyed Holt’s work under his own name and so was tempted to dip my toe into his fantasy efforts, courtesy of this short novel published by Tor. I absolutely couldn’t resist the blurb. This is a novella of wit, good, evil, ambition and sheer outright nerve; despite its brevity it reads like a mashup of Faust and Good Omens. And you should know me well enough to know that I think that’s a very good thing.

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