How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K J Parker (Orbit, 2020); audiobook read by Ray Sawyer (Isis, 2020) The besieged stalemate that Parker envisages evokes Hannibal’s 15-year occupation of Italy, only with sardonic observational humour and a cynical, world-weary thespian placed in charge of the defence. Sawyer’s audiobook reading matches the protagonist’s pessimism a little…
Academic Exercises by K J Parker (Subterranean, 2014) Some of Parker’s best work comes in what might be called the ‘long short’ form—novelettes and novellas. This bumper collection includes three excellent non-fiction pieces (sieges, swords, and armour) nestled amidst the beautifully wrought, cynically sublime world-building and ingenious antiheroic comeuppances.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K J Parker (Orbit, 2019) Parker’s understanding of siege warfare and voracious interest in how things work lend a sense of realness to setting and story, even as the openly unreliable narrator casts doubt on what’s happening. Light yet deeply engrossing, this poses real questions about historicity.
Colours in the Steel by K J Parker (Orbit, 1998) The original K J Parker novel, introducing all those elements—the detailed world building and practical intricacies, the tragedy-driven plots, hubris-plagued protagonists and gallows humour—that would prove characteristic of her/his work. Fencer lawyers make for the most apt of jumping-off points.
The Two of Swords, Volume Three by K J Parker (Orbit, 2017) Having jettisoned the serial novella approach of its first two instalments, The Two of Swords in this third volume focusses on one character—Telamon, the most interesting—and at last achieves escape velocity. A fine, Parker-esque end to a slightly dubious experiment.
The Two of Swords, Volume Two by K J Parker (Oribt, 2017) More of the same as Parker’s jigsaw puzzle of serialised novellas takes shape, each linked by an uneasy mix of realism and fatalism. The chapters with recurring characters are the more enjoyable, though still wanting in all but the blackest of humour.
The Two of Swords, Volume One by K. J. Parker (Orbit, 2017) The first book of a trilogy, originally serialised at one novella-length chapter per month, each focussing on a different character in the grand tapestry of war and secret society politics. The world-building is first-rate but overly grim, bereft of Parker’s customary humour.
The Father of Lies by K J Parker (Subterranean, 2018) A 500+ page compendium of Parker’s recent short fiction, focussing in particular on those pieces depicting gods, devils, magic and religion. As ever, Parker crafts believable worlds in which to tell fantastic, habitually mordant, stories. Anti-heroes abound and suffer for their sins.
Mightier than the Sword by K J Parker (Subterranean, 2017) A novella with the breadth and impact of a novel, packed into one sitting. Parker again delivers invented-world fantasy with more realism and more of an eye to detail than do most actual histories. Another droll (if downbeat) deconstruction of human nature.
Olympiad by Tom Holt (Little, Brown, 2000) Nobody reading Tom Holt’s historical novels could doubt that he is K J Parker. A scholar of Ancient Greek history, Holt peppered his Olympic Games origin story with gritty realism and a profoundly resigned appreciation of the nemesis inherent in human nature.