Archive for P.D. James

sixteen ways to defend a walled city [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 2, 2020 by xi'an

The title of this book, sixteen ways to defend a walled city,  enticed me to order it and after a slow beginning I became hooked to the story. I had forgotten I had read and enjoyed a book by K.J. Parker before, namely Devices and Desires, which was quite pleasant as far as I remember! (Not to be confused with another book under the same title by P.D. James.) The concept is somewhat similar, with the same universe if eons laters: boosted medieval warfare seen from an engineer’s perspective. (Devices and Desires started the Engineer Trilogy to make it clear to everyone!) Which makes for a pleasant change as devious ingenuity usually trumps frontal strength and there is at last attention paid to good, I mean in the sense of good delivery, resources, shortage, &tc.! The style is light and funny, the characters are somewhat too nice overall (until they die), but this makes for a tolerable kind of pastiche, most enjoyable to stand a heatwave! A second book just came out and I may be tempted to buy it, heatwave or not. Although the first one concluded in a rather definitive way, making a sequel unlikely… I may also complete the Engineer Trilogy.

Devices and desires

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on November 22, 2009 by xi'an

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.