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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by KJ Parker

 


Order Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City over HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt. According to the biographical notes in some of Parker's books, Parker has previously worked in law, journalism, and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. It is also claimed that Parker is married to a solicitor and now lives in southern England. According to an autobiographical note, Parker was raised in rural Vermont, a lifestyle which influenced Parker's work.

FORMAT: Orbit published How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It in August 2020 as a second book of The Siege series. It works as a standalone. The book is written in the first-person POV (via Notker) and counts 354 pages.

OVERVIEW: I don’t have to convince Parker’s fans to buy his books; they’ll do it anyway - even his weaker books beat most of the low fantasy published nowadays. How to Rule the Empire and Get Away With It is a loose sequel to Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, but it works as a standalone. And it’s great.

Notker, a cynic, actor, and playwright has a knack for impersonating influential people. His acting skills and physique allow him to win the audience and make a living. Things get complicated when the enemy’s trebuchet kills Lysimachus, a venerated war hero. Without him, the city is doomed.  It turns out Notker resembles him. A bit. He doesn’t have scars, and he dislikes blood and violence, but who cares. Definitely not the conspirators who coerce him into impersonating the hero. 

Notker’s ex-girlfriend, Hodda, gets caught up in intrigue as well. To make matters more interesting, she used to date the real Lysimachus. Not to mention other influential figures. The pair gets tangled in a web of lies, and things escalate quickly. The Senate appoints Notker as Emperor and wants him to lead the war against King Ogus and his ruthless warriors. While Hodda plays an important role in the story, we stay in Notker’s head and POV. Like most of Parker’s protagonists, he’s no hero: 

Me, I don’t care about the bad guys, so long as they keep the hell away from me. When they get too close in my face, I tell lies and run away. That means I’ll never be a hero, but I don’t mind that. I do character parts and impersonations.

Notker’s sardonic voice, and his cynically philosophical asides about life, love, and politics, charmed me. Despite his shortcomings, Notker makes do. He uses his wit and resources to ensure an exciting and surprising finale. I love Parker's use of tight first-person narration. It always makes me laugh, think, and brood over the condition of humanity. 

Ah, the people. My countrymen, my fellow citizens, my brothers. Mind you, some of them are all right, when you get to know them. But a lot of them aren’t; and here’s a funny thing, because when you mix them together, the ones that are all right and the ones that aren’t, as often as not the resulting blend is far worse than the sum of its parts. Greedier, more cowardly, more stupid.

Parker conveys backstories through instant immersion into the everyday life of Notker, an actor turned Emperor trying to save the day against impossible odds. He has no illusions about his countrymen, but he’ll try to help them, anyway. 

Nothing changes more often, more rapidly or more radically than the past. Yesterday’s heroes are today’s villains. Yesterday’s eternal truths are today’s exploded myths. Yesterday’s right is today’s wrong, yesterday’s good is today’s evil. And tomorrow it’ll all be one hundred and eighty degrees different, on that you can rely.

Much as I enjoyed Sixteen Ways to Defend The Walled City, I liked How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It more. It feels tighter and Notker is easier to like than Orhan, even if there are a few moments where pacing could be improved. Still, this is a fantastic novel. Parker provides an immersive story with clever twists and uncomfortable truths about human nature and society in elegant yet utterly unpretentious prose

One could argue that whole of Parker's oeuvre has the same general feel. That he writes only one character with the same fatalistic but humorous outlook on life. And yet, as a writer, he gets away with it because he does it so well and he always offers unexpected twists. How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It is darkly funny and cheerfully horrific and I had a great time reading it.

1 comments:

Yaroslav Barsukov said...

Interesting. Do you as a reviewer generally enjoy first-person or third-person narration more? When they're done right, of course. I feel that introspection is much harder to do in third person.

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