Devices and desires

Last week, I finished reading Devices and Desires from K.J. Parker, a book bought in this fantastic Akateeminen Kirjakauppa bookstore in Helsinki (with a different cover using a Da Vinci technical drawing). The title was vaguely familiar if not the name of the author and I only realised today that it was because I had read the book of P.D. James with exactly the same title, about twenty years ago! (I find it rather surprising that an author may re-use the same title than an earlier author but this must be acceptable from a legal point of view!) Anyway, this book is interesting in that it gets away from the standards of fantasy to come closer to speculative history. The setting still is a sort of medieval society but there are no supernatural powers nor beings, the opposition being between feudal kingdoms and a more industrial and centralised state that managed to get the monopoly of all manufactured goods. The premises of this trilogy are thus quite promising, but the plot does not unravel that well: the narrative proceeds through the points of view of a few (too) central characters and the renegade from the industrial state is too improbably clever, just as the head of one of the feudal states is too dumb and indecisive. This poor style is somehow unfortunate, as the societies are well-conceived, with an interesting stalemate in both societies, innovation being probibited on both sides (until this exceptional renegade comes by). The moral conflict in using new weapons with more desctructive power is somehow predictable but the book mostly sheers away from a Ludite perspective that all industry is evil (not completely, as shown by the next title in the trilogy: Evil for Evil). The concept is vaguely related to L.E. Modesitt Jr‘s endless Recluce saga, where a teenager more interested in engineering than in magic leaves the island to get a living… (The first Recluce book was quite good, but then the series got bogged into an unimaginative infinite repeat loop!) My overall feeling is that, while the engineering and hunting aspects of the story show a good background and are enjoyable, the story is spread too thinly to consider buying the two other volumes in the trilogy.

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