Pattern (Scavenger Trilogy) by K J Parker
|Pattern (Scavenger Trilogy) by K J Parker|
|Reviewer: Simon Regan|
|Summary: Pattern stands head-and-shoulders above the present fantasy scene, and is well worth picking up if you've already read Shadow or her previous Fencer Trilogy, although it's hard to recommend as a standalone volume or as a jumping-off point into Parker's work.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 576||Date: March 2003|
Poor old Poldarn. After waking up to find himself lying in a river, surrounded by corpses, and with no idea who he is or how he got there, the initially nameless protagonist of Shadow is put through the wringer time and time again – stumbling his way through a series of increasingly nightmarish situations. Now, in K.J. Parker's latest offering in the Scavenger trilogy, Pattern, he's being offered a new start in a childhood home he doesn't remember and a new life with an extended family who know far more about him than he does. But sometimes nothing turns out right, and even after turning his back on prophecies of gods and destroyers, Poldarn is still being haunted by his past.
I had more or less given up on what I felt to be an increasingly stale, unoriginal fantasy genre when I first encountered K.J. Parker's Shadow. Possessed of an immaculate realism, with every detail of everyday life described in the books drawn from the author's almost unbelievably thorough hands-on research, Shadow featured none of the warmed-over Tolkien clichés that seemed to permeate other contemporary fantasy 'epics'. The central conceit – retrograde amnesia: vanishingly rare in real life but omnipresent in fiction – was forgivable, and what Parker did with it was breathtaking.
After finishing Shadow, I was aware that Parker had continued Poldarn's story in a second volume, Pattern (and had later completed the trilogy with Memory), but felt the first book to be so complete in itself that I didn't dare investigate her latest works. I suspected – as I still suspect – that Parker never originally intended to expand Shadow into a series, and feared a washout similar to the decline of the Matrix series in film.
After reading Pattern, I can say authoritatively that the Scavenger series has not betrayed the legacy of Shadow. Pattern is an extremely solid offering, rich in Parker's delightfully cynical narrative style, and with her characteristic blurring of dreams and reality that seems to owe a debt to the genre of magical realism. Poldarn has finally been given something to fight for – and something to lose – beyond himself, and you can't help but wince with him when his well-meaning schemes go down, quite literally, in flames. At the same time, however, I don't feel that Parker has quite recaptured the atmosphere of the first book. All the elements are there – stunning reflections on human nature through down-to-earth medieval activities, mind-bending dream sequences and a maddeningly steady trickle-feed of information about the world Poldarn inhabits – but for some reason I didn't find myself as bewitched as I was reading Shadow.
An ironic notion, given that Pattern is a far more magical book in terms of the plot devices Parker employs; and perhaps that's the problem. The uncompromising realism I found so addictive in her earlier works is still present, but ever-so-slightly diluted. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the case of the raiders; in Shadow they were obviously intended to be ersatz Vikings, brutal pillagers who burn and loot the old monasteries as the Empire crumbles from within. In Pattern they are quickly established as psychic pirates hailing from two great volcanic islands to the far west, which combined exceed the landmass of the continental Empire.
Whilst I think ultimately the story of Pattern transcends these surreal additions to the Scavenger canon, it does suffer for them, and it would have been interesting to see the result had Parker stayed a little truer to her previous world-building tone. As it stands, Pattern still stands head-and-shoulders above the present fantasy scene, and is well worth picking up if you've already read Shadow or her previous Fencer Trilogy, although it's hard to recommend as a standalone volume or as a jumping-off point into Parker's work.
Here at Bookbag we've been impressed by K J Parker's Engineer Trilogy.
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