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.

The Incident Report, Martha Baillie

The week before I left my internship, I checked out six books from the university library, and the only two paperbacks (The Incident Report and Mothernight, of which more later) had nothing on their back covers except for quotations about time. It was like they were mocking me, like: Hey, your time in this internship is coming to an end, and pretty soon, oh no, you will run out of time there, and you will have to worry about the future! Mean old paperbacks, reminding me about time and how it never stops going and no matter how much you want it to grind to a halt and let you carry on doing the nice thing that you’ve been doing, IT WILL NOT. Stupid time. Time and I are not friends. It wasn’t very nice of the books to remind me about this. Books are mean. Maybe books and I are not friends either, and I need to reexamine my life.

(I had no idea this post was going to be so soul-searching.)

The quotation with which The Incident Report‘s back cover mocked me: “There are moments when time dilates like the pupil of an eye, to let everything in.” I know, right? So pointed. Why not make the back cover say “There are moments when Jenny’s internship is almost over and she has to go home and deal with a difficult job market”? You know?

The Incident Report is a more-or-less epistolary novel, composed of incident reports written by a public librarian in Toronto, Miriam. She meets a man with a book, and she starts finding letters more or less about herself, the librarian “with freckled hands”. Someone at the library appears to believe that he is a character from the opera Rigoletto. This reminded me of the film Rigoletto that we used to watch in choir class when our teacher didn’t feel like teaching, about the deformed guy who teaches the girl how to sing, and she sings a song about harmony, and that song has been stuck in my head since reading this book. Martha Baillie undoubtedly did this deliberately. The time thing too.

Do you see? Do you see how Martha Baillie tries to make my life hard? Plus, this:

His skin, and under his skin. What his left toe knew. The smell of him. The orbital smell of him. That our knees spoke willingly. Inexplicably, the taste of raspberries filled my mouth.

Yeah. There were times at which this book was rather lovely (“She paused, testing the air for the electricity of my approval”), and times at which I thought it was trying too hard. Guess under which heading the “left toe knew” passage falls. No, guess. You can guess.

But the lovely times were frequent enough that the trying-too-hard passages didn’t destroy my enjoyment of the book. Baillie is very good at working by implication and deduction. For every small thing Miriam says about her past and present life, the reader can hear a hundred things that she isn’t saying. The incident reports tend to be short, making this a very quick read, but I wouldn’t call it a light one.

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading (thanks for the recommendation!)
Buried in Print
The Indextrious Reader

Let me know if I missed yours!

Two books I didn’t like (sad, sad)

I put the words “sad, sad” in the title line here, but that was silly.  I am not sad at all.  I am still very happy, because as you may recall, THE SAINTS WON THE SUPER BOWL, causing me to tear up happily every time Drew Brees opens his mouth (he’s such a sweet dear) or every time I see a picture of all the confetti and rejoicing.  And everyone is all “If only my daddy were alive to see this day,” and New Orleans is throwing the biggest party possibly every thrown, like even bigger than that party in “Death in Venice” with the elephants, and somebody predicted on Saturday that Porter would not be able to block Wayne effectively, and (he did though)—

(Dear Crazy Jenny, Hush about the Super Bowl.  Kisses, Sane Jenny)

So here are some books that I did not enjoy so far in February.

Clara Callan, Richard B. Wright

When I first read about this book, I discovered within myself a love for epistolary novels that was greater (I thought) than my unlove of novels set during the Great Depression. But do you know, I was completely wrong.  I mean if there was ever going to be a Great Depression book that I could manage, it should have been this one.  It is epistolary, it focuses on the relationship between two sisters, and one of the sisters becomes, I swear to you, a radio soap opera star in New York.  Those are some ingredients that should mix together to create a book that I would love – but they did not.

So I’m swearing off Great Depression books forever, unless you tell me with great conviction that you have a Great Depression book that transcends its Great Depression-ness and manages to be amazing anyway.  And not dreary.  And it obviously can’t be set in England or it doesn’t count.  Any thoughts?

Other reviews:

an adventure in reading
Books for Breakfast
Kristina’s Book Blog

Gray Horses, Hope Larson

I read this for the Graphic Novel Challenge, making it my one, two, third book read for the Graphic Novel Challenge, and the second one about which I was just not that crazy.  I wanted to like it because I have read nice things about Hope Larson’s Salamander Dreams, which the library didn’t have but they did have this.  Lesley read it and said there wasn’t enough to it, for a book, and I said, I don’t care what you think, I’m reading it anyway.  And no, she was totally right.  There is not enough to it.

Noemie is a French exchange student trying to find her way in an American city, and she has vivid dreams where she has a horse and helps a kid.  Back in real life, she makes a friend, and a dude follows her and takes her picture and leaves the pictures for her to find, which she finds sweet.  That is not romantic at all; it is completely creepy.  In fact I always felt that the creepiest deed committed by the Big Bad Villain of Season Two of Buffy was when he drew pictures of her sleeping and left them on her pillow.  This doesn’t feel so different from that; except that when the Big Bad Villain of Season Two of Buffy behaved in this manner, steps were taken.

I read this for the February mini-challenge, graphic novels with animals in, hosted by (fellow Louisianian & Super Bowl celebrator & I’m really shutting up about this now) Chris at Stuff as Dreams Are Made On.  But I am going to read that Darwin book if I can get it, and that will be for the mini-challenge too and hopefully I will enjoy it more.

Other reviews:

A Life in Books
A Striped Armchair
The Zen Leaf

Tell me if I missed yours!

P.S. Okay, I am a little bit sad.  A very little bit sad, though still mostly happy about the Saints.  I am a little sad because I found out today that I didn’t get into one of my grad schools.  Mostly I am still pleased about the Saints, and I reminded myself of this by watching Porter and Shockey give man hugs, and by watching Drew Brees holding his little son.  But a small part of me is a bit sad that I didn’t get into one of my grad schools.