Evil for Evil (Engineer Trilogy) by K J Parker

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Evil for Evil (Engineer Trilogy) by K J Parker

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: In the way of wars in all worlds, that between the Mezentines and Eremia is straying into other territories: thousands will die and whole nations risk annihilation and for what? Love, duty, power - sheer greed? All of these and more play a part as we study the detail of the lives and minds of the leaders involved and the machinery they invoke to pursue their cause.
Buy? Buy - but preferably after Devices & Desires (Star rating based on coming in without that lead) Borrow? Yes
Pages: 736 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841492780

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The way to a man's heart, Valens quoted, drawing the rapier from his scabbard, is proverbially through his stomach, but if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye socket.

As it happens he is only giving a fencing lesson on this particular occasion... but there is so much of the character of Duke Valens of the Vadani tied up in that opening paragraph. His dark humour, his ability not only to think clearly, but to express himself succinctly, his complete lack of regard for "form" - oh yes, and his utter ruthlessness when the situation dictates.

I like Valens. I'm not sure if I'm supposed to. But then, I sort-of like all of the main characters in Evil for Evil... and the truly weird thing is that I can't figure whether I like them all for different reasons... or whether it boils down to the fact that I like them all for the same reason: each of them embodies one of the things I like about myself. Of course, as Valens says at some point any virtue taken to extreme is just stupid! and I've not a doubt that some of mine are.

But we're not here to talk about me... we're here to talk about:

  • Valens - Duke of the Vadani, who are at war with the Eremians and the eternal Republic of the Mezentines - which wasn't what he planned, but when you've been writing to a woman since you were 17, you can't really forego the opportunity to do the knight-on-white-charger bit when she gets imprisoned.
  • Orsea, Duke of Eremia, all round good-guy in a world which really hasn't got space for them... husband of the aforementioned female receiver of letters
  • Veruzia the woman concerned... who actually loves her husband, but face it: if your entire life was spent looking out the window and doing needlework, wouldn't you want a little romance, a little intellectual stimulation?
  • Miel Ducas - leader of the soon to be obsolete guerrilla resistance - one time lover of the said woman - until she became heir to the throne (you know what royalty's like!) - think Che Guevara! Gorgeous, dashing, always managing to escape, heart in the right place, mind not necessarily to be trusted.
  • Ziani Vaatzes... we'll come back to him
  • Daurenja... him too
  • And the "Necessary Evil" ... the civil service machine that runs the eternal Republic - somewhere between Stalinist Russia and the Vatican!

Before we get back to our cast of characters, however, a little background - and a plea for indulgence.

Evil for Evil is the middle book of The Engineer trilogy. The middle book of any trilogy is traditionally the weakest. Its function is generally simply to be the bridge from the cause to the effect. If this true in the case of The Engineer... I must return to the beginning, and cannot wait for the end. It is a thoroughly compelling piece of work.

But it IS only a piece of the work: hence the plea for indulgence. Whatever I say about Evil for Evil has to be taken in the context of my not having read Devices and Desires (Book 1) and the fact that the final part is yet to appear.

Should any book that is part of a series be read 'alone' was the subject of mid-read debate. As a reviewer I hold that if that is how it arrives, then it is valid to read and pass an opinion on that basis, if only for the sake of those of us who finish our book just as we learn the flight has been delayed another four hours and have to choose something else from the airport bookstall to keep us entertained. (Hint to bookstalls: when the next in the series comes along... shelve a few of the early episodes for those of us who prefer to start at the beginning!)

In practice, my personal experience is, as ever: it depends.

Long series of novels which are linked by setting and/or characters generally can be read alone (I'm thinking of the Discworld novels for instance, or the Hitchhikers, or any of the many detective series). They have the requisite start, muddle, and end. That they also have doorways from the previous and into the next is scarcely relevant.

The 'trilogy' on the other hand is often conceived as such... with the structure deliberately divided to encompass the three novels, each of which is incomplete without its companions.

The Engineer trilogy clearly comes into this category. If you pick up Evil for Evil with no knowledge... you will be conscious of the missing links... and the more conscious of them you become, the more certain it is that however this episode is resolved, you know the book will end at a "tune in for next week's thrilling episode... " kind of a moment.

After 730 pages that can be just a trifle unsatisfactory.

Those are my only gripes about this book: I missed the beginning and had to leave before the end.

I did get a bit confused about who was fighting whom, and why. I trust that is a function of coming in part way through. It probably speaks for the whole tale, however, that I still managed to get so involved in this mid-section that I didn't want to put it aside.

Back at our cast-list then:

Ziani Vaatzes is the Engineer of the trilogy subtitle. He made a mechanical doll for his daughter, which did not conform to "the Specification"... why? is part of the plot... who knew, and how could they tell... ? Somehow this appears to be just one cog in a wheel which is an engineered war. Again: why?

Daurenja is the unknown: the weird stranger who wanders into the middle of a war and makes himself useful to everyone; who has skills, and attitude, and application beyond belief - but who also turns out to have connections - and to have made others. He sees what others do not. He too is an Engineer of sorts.

The setting is again traditional fantasy territory. Take a completely fictional world, with a low-technology quotient (think mediaeval) and, unusually, a very low magic quotient as well, add in characters with relatively modern sensibilities and see how they cope.

One of the things I loved about the book is how modern the characters are. The way they speak, the way they think is pure 21st century earth. The women are frustrated if they're not allowed to be anything other than decorative. The men pay far too much attention to how they look, and feel slightly silly as a result. Men and women spend too much time trying to be who they think they should be (to please their father, their husband, wife, government, uncles, brothers, people etc etc) instead of just being themselves.

The absurdities of governmental and military life play the role of comic relief.

The plot is that slightly unsatisfactory middle bit I mentioned earlier. The war has reached beyond book one, and you know it will not be wholly resolved until book three. There are some resolutions however... for better or worse. Not all of our characters will survive, not all of our countries for that matter. And each of the episodes - for this is a war, and all wars are a series of battles and intrigues often only tangentially connected - has an interest of its own: either by dint of the cause and effect, or the responses of those caught up in it, the decisions that are made and the thought processes that lead to them.

Philosophical questions litter the battlefields as you might expect: upon the nature of love, friendship, loyalty and family, upon the nature and exercise of government, the meaning of duty or nobility, guilt and recompense, or retribution. But also specific questions such as whether there is a point at which death is so inevitable, that trying to stay alive isn't worth the argument, or why when you know you are going to be killed, would you actually acquiesce to digging the grave?

The absorption comes from the minutiae to which attention is paid. Whether he's describing a hunt or a machine... Parker will give you every last feather or ball-bearing. You will feel every muscle strain in either activity, and step painfully through each thought process. His descriptions of battles and executions will make you wince, just as much as the sharp light of the desert will blind you, or the beauty of a body in action will entrance. Perhaps this is how you come to identify with the characters in turn... the narration slips effortlessly from one protagonist to another. The supporting cast move around in the background making up the dead-weight necessary for gravitas, but the focus is narrowly on the stars of the show... and we are allowed inside each of their heads...

... which inevitably leaves me wondering: so what are you going to do now?

If this type of book appeals to you then you might also enjoy The Iron Dragon's Daughter by Michael Swanwick.

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Buy Evil for Evil (Engineer Trilogy) by K J Parker at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Evil for Evil (Engineer Trilogy) by K J Parker at Amazon.com.


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