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Monday, July 15, 2019

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker (mini-review by Lukasz Przywoski)

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.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.

CLASSIFICATION: Military fantasy.

FORMAT: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City was published in April 2019 by Orbit. It's available in an e-book, paperback, and hardcover format. 

The book counts 384 pages

“According to the books (there’s an extensive literature on the subject) there are fifteen ways to defend a walled city. You can try one of them and, if that doesn’t work...What the books don’t tell you is, there’s a sixteenth way. You can use it when you’ve got nothing; no stuff, no men, and nobody to lead them. Apart from that it’s got nothing to recommend it whatsoever.”

I’ve discovered KJ Parker late in my life, through his excellent novellas. I became a believer. Brilliant minds impress me and Parker’s books shine with wit, humor, and clever ideas. He doesn’t delve into magic. Instead, he focuses on politics, finances, and logistics of war. 

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City narrated by Orhan, an engineer turned emperor, tells the story of the Great Siege. The Walled City has poor perspectives, what with thousands of enemies around it, plus lack of food and water. But little things like that won’t stop a Colonel of Engineers. 

Orhan colorizes the events and his role in them, but I couldn’t help but root for him. I have a soft spot for cynics, especially when they discover they can still act for a higher good (no matter how stupid and pointless in a longer run). Even when they lie and cheat along the way. Orhan’s actions stem mostly from logic, calculation, and luck. Somehow the fates favor him and allow him to wriggle out of the fix.  

The story doesn’t demand a lot of world-building, but what we get gives a sense of the current state of affairs at large. Apart from interesting military and personal conflict, Orhan presents also a racial and class differences that divide the society even in the face of almost inevitable doom. 

With a steady pacing, solid, lean writing and variety of twists, the novel keeps on surprising the reader, but it doesn’t prepare him for an abrupt ending. What can I say? I wanted more. heck, I still want more.

CONCLUSION: Highly recommended, especially for readers enjoying sarcastic, witty, irreverent, and unreliable narrators. 


Unknown said...

KJ Parker is one of my two favourite writers (the other is [was, damn it] Dave Duncan-- he blurbed one of my books or me, too, which is always nice). Parker always has interesting stories and great writing (I love the details). I read a couple of Tom Holt's books years ago and thoroughly hated them and now find it hard to believe they are the same person. Though I'm not sure if Holt/Parker writes better serious stuff than funny stuff or if, simply, years of practice made him better.

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