The Fencer Trilogy, K. J. Parker

NB: I am not really back. If I were back I would be reading your posts and posting comments that are witty and insightful as my comments always are (RIGHT?), and I really miss reading y’all’s posts because I love y’all. However, I am still doing The Transition, and also while The Transition is going on, my laptop is being repaired, and sadly there is some sort of general delay on parts, so it is taking ages for my laptop to become healed, so I am borrowing my aunt’s computer and I feel guilty using it for hours like I want to. If you are curious, the job is great, and finding housing is…less great. In fact finding housing is terrible and stresses me out so much I want to hide under a rock and never emerge. So I am trying to think mostly about the job. But on to K. J. Parker, pseudonymous military fantasy writer.

I…hardly know what to say about this trilogy. Except that it contains what I think may genuinely be the number one most yuckiest thing I have ever seen in a film or read about in a book. And yes, I said “most yuckiest” and I stand by it, because a single superlative would not do justice to how gruesome this thing is that happened. It spoils the ending of the second book, so I have elected to place it at the very end of this post, with spoiler warnings plastered over it. You do not have to read it. But if you do not think this series is for you, I would appreciate it if you read the spoilery gruesome thing, and then commented to tell me how right I am in calling it the world’s yuckiest ever plot element.

But onward. I overcame my reservations and got the Fencer Trilogy through interlibrary loan, because I could not see my way clear to carrying on without reading them when the temptation to read them was so strong. They are all about this man called Bardas Loredan, a veteran of the recent(ish) wars against the plains tribes outside the impenetrable city of Perimadeia. Following the war, he became a fencer-at-law, fighting to the death to settle the legal quarrels of the Perimadeians. Meanwhile there are some dudes who work within the Principle, which (they keep insisting) is not magic but nevertheless keeps on showing them the future and they keep (maybe) changing it in ways that (maybe) make it horrifically worse. Cities collapse and families implode, and poor old Bardas Loredan has to carry on and on and on. K. J. Parker is very good at doing the kind of unhappy ending where people are trapped in situations they’ve made for themselves (as opposed to the kind of unhappy ending where everyone dies, although K. J. Parker does that too.)

(K. J. Parker is still of indeterminate sex.)

K. J. Parker had a few tricks in this book that either could have gotten old but didn’t, or could have gotten old and did and I wished K. J. Parker would stop doing them and never do them again. It was neat when the various characters would suddenly slip into a dream (within the Principle) where they would be seeing the future, or the past, or a possible future, or a past that didn’t happen, and talking about it with other characters who turned up in the same dream. I carried on liking that all the way through the trilogy. However, K. J. Parker has to stop doing that thing where a section of narrative starts, and the point-of-view character is only referred to as “he” or “she” so you spend ages guessing who it is. Do not like. Found it affected.

I was going to say that I need a break from K. J. Parker, but before my break happens I want to read the rest of the Engineer Trilogy, the second two books of which my lovely mumsy got for me at the Strand, and get started on the first in the Scavenger Trilogy, which the lovely Erin of Aelia Reads sent to me. So I guess that really doesn’t suggest needing a break from K. J. Parker at all. I guess that means I still love K. J. Parker in spite of the most gruesomest thing ever and in spite of the affected point of view thing that K. J. Parker does.

WHAT THE YUCKY THING WAS (with spoilers) (and extreme yuckiness)

There are these two brothers, Bardas and Gorgas, and while Gorgas is off at war, Bardas finds out that Gorgas betrayed him in a really rotten way. So he goes away to his workshop (in addition to being a fencer, Bardas is also a bow-maker), and he makes the world’s best ever bow, and he sends it to Gorgas at war with a note that says I have made you the world’s best ever bow, good luck in the war, love and kisses from your fave brother Bardas. And Gorgas is all, hooray, hooray, he forgives me and we are friends, and he wins the war very effectively, with his bow and with his soldiers. At the end of the war he comes home and he’s all I am home thx for the bow it rully helped wow it smells awful in here, and Bardas is all, Oh hai, come right through here, that smell is your little son’s rotting corpse because I made your bow out of him.

HE MADE THE BOW OUT OF HIM.

Ewwwwwww. Ew. Ew. Ew. EW.

  • I do hate The Transition! Hope it goes well, and we’ll be looking for your return!

  • We miss you too, Jenny! And…ew. I don’t think I’ll be reading this trilogy any time soon. (Although that WAS very Greco-Roman mythic-y, which is interesting…eh.)

  • I don’t think I’ll be reading that one either. So I could not resist reading about the most yuckiest thing. EWWWWWW. Pretty yucky.

  • Katy

    If you’re looking for housing in New York, make absolutely sure to do a google search on your landlord. I had a landlord when I lived in Park Slope who was notorious for ripping off his tenants, never returning deposits, renting some spaces illegally, and so forth, but I learned this far too late.

    I do hope you’re looking in Brooklyn, though. It’s really a great place to live, much more interesting than Manhattan. My last semester there I lived in a big Victorian house in a residential neighborhood in Ditmas Park; it was the least expensive place I’d lived since moving to New York, and I had a gorgeous tower room on the third floor with windows all around.

  • Good luck with The Transition and getting your laptop fixed! Mine has been on the fritz lately, but luckily my dad is a computer-whisperer of some kind and can bring it back from the edge.

  • We miss you too! House hunting really can be extremely stressful : By some sort of miracle I had no trouble this time around, but the previous time I’d moved to the UK, it took me until the evening before the day I had to move out of the Uni residency hall where I was temporarily staying, and I had no place to go at all. That was NOT a fun week. Best of luck with everything!

    I read the most yuckiest thing as well, and while Anastasia made a great point about it being very Greek myth-y, I’m still going to say EEK.

  • I agree it’s incredibly classical – it reminds me of Atreus who cooked his brother’s sons and served them to him at a feast without a knowledge. But it’s definitely lurid and horrible too – I’ll second the ‘ew’s and ‘eek’s.

  • Do hope house hunting is not as terrible as this trilogy. Check very carefully that potential landlords do not have a history of making bows out of people who fall behind with the rent. Thinking of you!

  • Mumsy

    Haha, silly Jenny. Just think about it. A little boy is not big enough to make a bow out of – his longest bones would only be about 18 inches long. In face, not even that. KJ Parker just has a gruesome imagination is all.

    Glad you are back! I missed your posts. And promise, you are worrying for nothing – a great place is just on the horizon.

  • That really is the yuckiest thing I have ever come across, so I can completely understand your reaction to it. It sounds like you were pretty surprised to come across that particular little bit of nastiness, as I would have been. I don’t think I will be reading this book, but I do appreciate your review on it!

  • Amy

    Oh, no no no no no. Wont’ be reading that. I have limitations and that one hits it.

    Hope the Transition comes to a satisfactory close soon. Finding a place is always the worst part. Glad the job is great!

  • Most yuckiest, yeah. I’m not reassured by Mumsy’s analysis; my son is still my little boy, and he’s almost my height now (5’11”).

  • anna

    yeah, mumsy, remember the height of certain boy I bit?

  • Mumsy

    It STILL doesn’t matter. My own femur is not long enough for a bow.

    • anna

      I started to argue this point, and I think I have a good argument, but it just gets too gruesome, and I have to put together my argument that under the laws of war the use of nuclear weapons is illegal.

  • I have been thinking about it more (because I have nothing else to do), and I think that actually that is not the grossest thing I’ve ever read in a story. Probably that honor would go to Wayland the Smith‘s origin story (or whatever the proper literary term is), where he got his revenge against the dude that hobbled him by beheading the dude’s two sons and making goblets from their skulls, jewels from their eyes, and a brooch from their teeth. He then sent all that to the dude, and the dude proceeded to drink from the goblets, give his wife the jewels, and give the brooch to his daughter to wear. Then he drugged the daughter, raped her, and escaped on a pair of wings he made, leaving her pregnant and seriously upset (obviously). Then he went and bragged about everything to the dude and his wife.

    So!

    Also, re:that bone length then. Wouldn’t it be impossible to make a bow out of bone anyway, because bones aren’t bendy like wood is? So how would you string it? (Please note that I know nothing about archery except what I’ve seen in Robin Hood movies.)

    • anna

      you just made me really sad. I liked him so much in Fables, and now I can never feel the same about him!

      • Yeah, I was pretty shocked when I read that story in one of my medieval classes. I was expecting him to be cuddly and friendly like in Fables (which I had read before taking that class)! Uh. Not so much. D:

      • anna

        This is why it’s bad to read source material. This, right here.

    • Eek! What Anna said.

  • Mumsy

    Possibly he just used his guts to string the bow.

  • Now we’re back to the perpetual violinist’s dilemma, except that violin bows are no longer made with catgut!

  • I hope you find your new home soon!

    And about the bow: Eeewww, and very Greek-myth.

  • You must be rubbing off on me because somehow I managed to read the very bottom of this post (the super yucky eww part) first and I am SO glad I did because I may have been scared away if I read it from top to bottom – no I think I still would have read it.

    Glad the job is going well, I hope the house finding has perked up.

  • Two things: 1) Sorry to hear about your apartment foes. One of my best friends lived in NYC for a few years, and she and her boyfriend had a wretched time finding a place. Don’t hide under that rock just yet, though! They did find a place (and it wasn’t a cardboard box). Hang in there!

    2) EW EW EW EW. Reminds me of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. EW.

    • Okay, that was supposed to be apartment WOES, not FOES. Although I guess foes would work here, too . . .

      • anna

        I like foes better: Brave Jenny tackles her apartmental foes, swashbuckling her way through the newspaper advertisements with a flair entirely her own!

      • I stand by my original “foes” then. Go, Jenny, go! Defeat those foes!

  • Military fantasy…wow! that’s a first, I never even heard of this genre. And your review made my head spin, just spin!

    I was definitely not going to pick up the books because it sounded messy, and then the spoiler just KILLED it for me …KILLED, haha 😀

    Now that my dumb joke is out of the way, it’s good to hear that you are enjoying the job :). Don’t stress toooo much about the living situation, you just need to hang in there!

    All the best to you!

  • As a Texas writer, my eye immediately went to that “y’all.”

    I hate yucky. Thanks for the warning.

  • Wonderful to see you back, Jenny! Hope you are having a wonderful time in New York and your laptop gets fixed soon and you are able to find a house soon 🙂

    Interesting review of ‘The Fencer’ trilogy. I haven’t heard of K.J.Parker before. The last passage you have quoted is really surprising in a sad and terrible way – it is like one of those sad surprises in a Greek tragedy, but this one is more sad.

  • I couldn’t get on at all with K.J.Parker, I’m afraid, and gave up partway through the first one I tried. So I read the spoiler, and I assumed that it was guts for stringing…gruesome, I agree, but Iain Banks/Iain M. Banks and Jon Courtenay Grimwood both compete for the prize. I think the latter gets it for me – happily I can’t remember the *exact* details of either death, in redRobe and Lucifer’s Dragon but the one in LD is to do with making a statue is really made me wince, because it’s so inventively horrible.

    Good luck with the Transition (I’m reading Banks’ Transition at the moment, so I hope yours goes rather better!)

  • ela21

    Yup, Iain M. Banks had someone making a chair out of his half-sister… (in ‘Use of Weapons’). One of Patricia Wrede’s stories, based on a ballad or two, had a harpist make a harp out of a dead girl (but he didn’t kill her, though that doesn’t make it any less yuck, in my opinion). And Dorothy L. Sayers had a sculptor kill his model/mistress and electroplate her, then use her as a couch (‘The Abominable History of the Man With Copper Fingers’, which you can find in the ‘Lord Peter Views The Body’ collection of short stories).

    Sorry, shall I stop now?

  • So, I didn’t read the bit about the yucky thing, but I’ve heard about it before. Not specifics, but just that it happens. Is it the thing the protagonist does to the antagonist that everyone who reads these books brands as the yuckiest thing in the history of the world? I’ve got a strong stomach, but I’m still rather concerned about it.

    Also, I am catching up on my Google Reader, which is why this is such a late-to-the-game comment. I’m kind of stupid about GR; I save my favourite blogs for last because I want to read them carefully and leave meaningful comments, but then I have soooo many unread posts that I tell myself I should wait a little longer so I can read and reply to them ALL AT ONCE. Silly Memory!

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