Sharps by K J Parker

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Sharps by K J Parker

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Yet again this author stretches familiar fantasy elements, but for once she is outdone by giving us too much early detail and not backing it up with her usual brilliant plotting.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 576 Date: July 2012
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 9781841499260

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Fencing - it's such an exotic, rarefied world with it's own language, that it's no surprise to remember the director of Alien, Blade Runner and Prometheus started his career with a fencing film. And it's all over this fantasy, but not in the usual sword-and-sorcery way of old, as a delegation of swordsmen and -women visit Permia from Scheria - two fencing-loving countries that until recently have been at war. But why exactly are they going - separately, and as a group? Who is playing what kind of diplomatic game between the two countries, and is a wielded sword the only danger they'll face?

This is both an exuberantly rich book and at times a frustrating one. When a friend down the local asked me to put my thumb on why I felt this was not as good as Ms Parker's previous, I couldn't - or couldn't succinctly, so bear with me. You could argue for one that the plot is just fantasy story stereotype, as proven by reading this summary in the voice of that cinema trailer man - In a world... were the truth is sharper than a sword... and where the greatest weapon... is a secret... six ill-fitting people... go on... a JOURNEY... But the fact remains that Parker brilliantly disguises that with her immersive world building.

Scheria isa balance between the powers of the clerical, the financial and the noble, and their interplay makes me suspect Parker would walk a sociology degree. Each is here with their own characters and vocabulary, and this is one of the first post-credit crunch fantasies - the banks foreclosed on the war to end it, and those evil credit-rating people like Moody's get a mention. Permia is no less complex, and is not just the comically bad food, dull scenery and delays the Scherians find.

So this, as is usual with this author, is a world entire. But it's an awkwardly conveyed one at times. We know this expedition is not just a hearts and minds exercise as someone calls it, and while the intrigue is fitted into the story of the trek and is nicely drip-fed to us at times, the detail makes that trek too lengthy, and the big secret turns out to be there is no big secret. True, it flirts with a conspiracy here, provides red herrings there, and plays the reader along, but a lot of the truth is on page ?! and chances are you're just so bludgeoned with exotic detail you have little hope of absorbing, and/or too much intricate detail to remember.

Yet there is a converse to that, too. Parker's merits are in the unnoticeable factors, the parts of her world we dismiss as colour, the intricacy of character that makes these disparate people and not just fantasy stock. She has real characters on her pages, has clearly researched her swordsmanship and once again is more than capable of giving us a fantasy-but-not-as-we-know-it novel. To repeat, I was both stuck in a quicksand of obscure detail and yet able to see a bigger picture that was actually a series of smaller pictures conveyed in photoreal fashion. Invest the time and thought in the early pages and you will see an entertaining piece of work - one that plays its literary craft over its conspiratorial cleverness.

I must thank the kind Orbit people for my review copy. We also have a review of Pattern (Scavenger Trilogy) by K J Parker.

A great fantasy we enjoyed here recently was Vengeance: The Tainted Realm: Book 1 by Ian Irvine. For me, the best Parker book is possibly still The Hammer.

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