K. J. Parker, enigmatic military fantasist

Memory read Purple and Black a while ago, and because I am shallow, I added it to my list on the strength of the…um…the fact that it’s printed in two different colors. Don’t judge me! Part of the book IS IN PURPLE. Moreover, it’s an epistolary novel, a correspondence between the emperor of a Rome-type empire and an old school friend of his, who’s been put in charge of sorting out a rebellion force. There is a fair amount of griping back and forth, and reminiscing about the far more fun they and their friends had when they were in school.

Purple and Black is a wee little novella, not a proper full-length book, but it says a lot over its few pages. The emperor, Nico, acceded unwillingly to a troubled throne and is trying to find a way to avert another round of civil wars like the ones that have racked the empire throughout its history. But he has never wanted to be a ruler, any more than Name wanted to be a general, and they are both struggling to effect positive change while maneuvering within the clumsy apparatus of government and tradition. It’s a book about power and the institutions that allow it to operate.

This book sneaks up on you, man. You start out, everyone’s friends, they’re so light-hearted with each other, old school friends, and even when they’re going through bad stuff, really bad stuff, it still feels like a pretty cheerful sort of book. Then suddenly CRASH, things are not what you thought they were. So okay, that’s the new situation, things are slightly grimmer than before, but still going along, until CRASH, the situation is still not what you thought it was. And on like this to the end of the story, which was, to say the least, not what I expected.

Other reviews:

Stella Matutina
Fantasy Book Critic
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist
Reading the Leaves
Dark Wolf’s Fantasy Reviews

Did I miss yours? Read this straightaway and come talk to me about it!

As it happened, I was passing by the library a few days after reading Purple and Black, so I thought I would just stop in and see what other books by K. J. Parker might be had. Parker has written seven or eight books, including two trilogies, but my library only had one standalone novel, and one that’s the first in a series. I didn’t want to start a series I wouldn’t be able to finish, so I checked out the standalone, The Company. It’s about a group of five men, the survivors of a group of six “linebreakers” in the late war, the legendary A Company, to whom death did not seem to apply. Many years after the end of the war, their leader, Teuche Kunessin, has come up with an idea for the five of them to colonize a small island.

Between them, the men work out the details. They buy a ship and all the supplies they will need to set up a farm colony that will last and grow over the years. They fit themselves out with indentured servants, guns, livestock, building supplies, even wives, and take off for the island of Sphoe. Things do not go exactly according to plan. Though the men are still bound together by their years of service in the war, and are still able to work almost effortlessly as a team when they want to, there are underlying resentments and secrets. And nothing brings out resentments and secrets like being stuck on an island together.

I cannot put my finger on exactly what intrigued me about this book. Parker does very well at making his five characters believably competent and deadly, fascinating in spite of being unlikable. They’re both respected and feared, these men who survived over and over again a job that killed nearly all its practitioners. Even when they’re goofing off a bit among themselves, the reader’s not able to forget that they’re the most effective fighting force of their size in all the land. I dunno. It’s tense. Plus, I read the end (this was in August) so I knew where all this was heading.

Some stuff you might want to be aware of before starting reading K.J. Parker: K. J. Parker only believes in happy endings in the way that K. J. Parker believes in New Guinea. It exists but has no impact on K. J. Parker. Which, actually, is kind of the way the characters of The Company feel about women. The women are peripheral. This isn’t necessarily indicative of any bad attitudes on the part of K. J. Parker: the wives in The Company are not paid much notice by the five men, but then, the five men do not pay much attention to anyone outside of themselves. That’s sort of the point. You don’t get the impression that the women have no lives of their own, but because the men aren’t paying attention, the reader doesn’t get to see them much. I’ll be interested to see how Parker handles women in the other books I have yet to read but can hopefully get on PaperbackSwap.

Other reviews:

Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review
Genre Reader
Dark Wolf’s Fantasy
Reading the Leaves
Grasping for the Wind

Again, I will add a link if I missed yours. Promise.

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12 thoughts on “K. J. Parker, enigmatic military fantasist

    • I wasn’t enthused about it myself at first, but the writing was unexpectedly absorbing, and in fact made me abruptly very interested in military strategy and military history.

  1. I must try some Parker! I have to say that the purple text intrigues and from your plot summaries of both of the books, it sounds like I might be in for some unexpectedness! Great reviews on these two. Now off to try to find them!!

    • Good luck! I’m sort of sad now that my library hasn’t got all of Parker’s books. Once I’ve read Devices and Desires I’ll be unable to get any more Parker. 😦

  2. I’ve never even heard of this author before, but the books sound most intriguing. I do love the way book blogging is always opening me up to new authors – thank you!

    • I had never heard of her/him either, and was excited to find that s/he had written so many books. The tricky bit is going to be acquiring them. PaperbackSwap has been failing me. :/

  3. I’m so glad my library system has this. It’s just what I’m in the mood for. I like being sneaked up on (but only in books. In real life I am apt to react with violence.)

  4. K. J. Parker only believes in happy endings in the way that K. J. Parker believes in New Guinea. It exists but has no impact on K. J. Parker.

    I’m sitting here, giggling and giggling and giggling over this!

    I must read more K.J. Parker. I actually borrowed one of their trilogies from the library a couple of months back, but that was before I learned to, like, only borrow as many books as I can actually read in a month. I had to return them unread. 😦 I’ll get ’em again, though!

    When I was at the convention at the end of August, I threw Parker out there as an example of a writer who’s managed to keep their gender completely under wraps, and everyone else told me I was an idiot and that everyone knows Parker is female. (Only they said it nicer than that. I just felt like an idiot afterwards). So now I don’t know what to think, since I Googled pretty extensively right after I finished PURPLE AND BLACK, and everything I read said we suspect they’re female but don’t know. Sigh.

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