A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K J Parker (Orbit, 2022); audiobook read by Ray Sawyer (Isis, 2022) Deeply cynical and posing very real questions about the nature of recorded history (although the title in this instance comes a little too close to the truth; the narrative is less of a story, more a thought experiment in psychology…
Inside Man by K. J. Parker (Tor, 2021) Within a few pages, this sequel to Prosper’s Demon establishes its devilish scenario. What follows thereafter is an increasingly labyrinthine exploration of underlying premise—the feasibility of heavenly resistance within a divine plan that incorporates that very resistance. Ingenious though narratively self-absorbed.
Prosper’s Demon by K. J. Parker (Tor, 2020) A twisty fantasy novella of particularly dark conception, told in a conversational style. Parker establishes the premise, turns it on its head and then springs a fitting denouement… but does so through uncharacteristically skittish bits of prose, ideas scattering like loose beads.
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.