– goodreads –
ARC received from the publisher (Subterranean Press) on Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve always been interested in reverse stories, where the ending (in this case, the death of the narrator) is known from the start, and then they slowly work its way towards it. Where the question is not what happens as much as how it happens. And I have enjoyed what I read of K.J. Parker so far.
I’ve done some truly appalling things in my life. I’m bitterly ashamed of them now. Saying I did them all for the best—and saying, those things weren’t my idea, other people made me do them, is just as bad; admitting that I’m a spineless coward as well as morally bankrupt. I’m a mess, and no good nohow.
But despite the catchy opening, I was not…quite satisfied with what I got.
If this book had a theme, it would be “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s narrated by a dying man, who tells us about his rise from relatively simple beginnings – his mother was a village whore – to great heights, ending with his inevitable downfall. He committed atrocities and caused many deaths and admits as much – yet at the same time, it all has an air of “I didn’t quite know what I was doing, I just went along with what I’ve been told.” He comes off as, well, rather simple. Or to put it less charitably, a bumbling idiot. And likely unreliable.
It’s also funny that his downfall only happens after he’s had enough and stopped blindly following orders. Though even if he didn’t, I doubt it would have made much difference. This is K.J. Parker, after all.
The rambling, conversational, first-person style doesn’t help. Initially, I loved it, but the further I went, the more annoyed I got. Combined with the speed at which he blazes through the story, it creates a distancing affect from the actual events of the book as well. And I don’t like distance. It’s a common problem with novellas – they rarely feel like quite enough.
Worldbuilding-wise, it’s set in his standard empire, worshippers of the Invincible Sun. Magic is so minimal to be non-existent – the miracles can easily be handwaved away as simple coincidences, if one so wishes. And there were too many of those. It borrows quite a bit from actual history and historical events as well – at one point, blatantly enough to throw me out of the story.
It might be your style. It might be that the things that bothered me are a non-issue to you. But overall, it just felt off to me.
Recommended to: K.J. Parker fans, those who like it when the outcome is known from the start, those looking for extremely cynical books
Not recommended to: history buffs, those who don’t like novellas for condensing the story too much, those who don’t like a plot that relies on coincidences