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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Anthology Story Review: A Rich Full Week by KJ Parker (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order Swords & Dark Magic HERE:
Read FBC Review of Purple & Black
Read FBC Review of The Folding Knife

INTRODUCTION: When the anthology Swords & Dark Magic was announced with its stellar table of contents - anthology that is the only non-novel in my Anticipated 2010 Books Post - the one story I wanted to read the most was "A Rich Full Week" by KJ Parker. While I plan to review the whole anthology sometime in mid-June for its official publication date, "A Rich Full Week" was very impressive and deserves a separate longer review of its own. Of intermediate length, the story is episodic and takes place in an original milieu different from any of the KJ Parker's 11 novels and 2 novellas to date though of course you will recognize some of the author's favorite themes and their expression from earlier work.

While the two Subterranean novellas (the superb Purple and Black (FBC Rv) and the upcoming Blue and Gold which I have recently read and it blew me away with its superb twists and turns, while the roguish unreliable narrator alchemist Saloninus is one of the most memorable characters in recent times - I will review it here closer to its December publication date) are in reality short novels and complete in themselves, "A Rich Full Week" deals precisely with what the title implies: a week in the life of a "wizard" investigator of un-natural happenings and especially with two seemingly unrelated jobs - the investigation and elimination of a possible "restless dead" that kills sheep in a village in the middle of nowhere and then the mind-recovery of a child who is catatonic after a traumatic fall in another obscure village, a night mailcoach traveling away...

ANALYSIS: ... "You don't look like a wizard," he said.
I owed myself two nomismata. "I'm not a wizard," I said.
I always say that.
"But we sent to the Fathers for a - "
"I'm not a wizard," I repeated, "I'm a philosopher. There's no such thing as wizards."
He frowned. "We sent to the Fathers for a wizard," he said.
I have this little speech. I can say it with my eyes shut, or thinking about something else. It comes out better if I'm not thinking about what I'm saying. I tell them, we're not wizards, we don't do magic, there's no such thing as magic. Rather, we're students of natural philosophy, specializing in mental energies, telepathy, telekinesis, indirect vision. Not magic; just science where we haven't quite figured out how it works yet."

The above lines which essentially open "A Rich Full Week" give a very good idea of both the tone of the story and of its setting. The unnamed narrator, a field investigator of the Order is sent by his boss Father Prior on a weeklong duty tour that starts with the two missions described above. While a restless dead infestation is rare and potentially dangerous, the "Statutes and Procedures" of the Order describe precisely how it is to be eradicated and with appropriate care and a reasonably skillful field agent, it is routine.

However there is a twist here: the dead man in cause is a wandering teacher Anthemius who may have had a lot in common with our hero. Narrated in the matter-of-fact style that made the author such a favorite of mine, the "dialogue" between the two is just for the ages and the resolution is pitch-perfect.

"Indeed," I said. "There could be a paper for the journals in this."
"Your chance to escape from obscurity," he said solemnly. "Under different circumstances, I'd wish you well. Unfortunately, I really don't want you cutting off my head. It's a miserable existence, but - "

The second mission which involves recovering a lost mind seems even more routine and the narrator tells us that he is especially skillful in such, so imagine his surprise when after making an entrance in the child's mind, he cannot find the boy's "imago".

"Odd, I thought, and touched base with theory. The boy must still be alive, or else there would be no room. If he's alive, he must be in here somewhere. He can't be invisible, not inside his own head. He can, of course, be anything he likes, so long as it's animate and alive. A cockroach, for example, or a flea.
I sighed. I get all the rotten jobs."

And of course soon comes the kicker which left me stunned - though this being KJ Parker I expected something odd and twisty but not that...

"A Rich Full Week" does not really have swords, it has fights though of a different but no less lethal type and sorcery galore, but again not the usual kind as you can see from the excerpts above. Original, surprising and a great introduction to the style of the author, "A Rich Full Week" was the highlight of an overall excellent anthology for me.


Melissa (My words and pages) said...

I am looking forward to this Anthology. I have been enjoying anthologies, and I love fantasy. This sounds like a great combination I will enjoy.


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