The Hammer by K J Parker

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The Hammer by K J Parker

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A strong but long look at an unusual world, with psychological power-plays between a scion to a great family and all his newly-inherited frontier world.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Orbit
ISBN: 978-1841495149

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The met'Oc family have three sons. One is strong, super-industrious, but too busy to do more than patch up their farm. The second is a vicious thing, eager to ride roughshod over people like a western film's worst bandit, even when it belies the met'Oc's noble origins. And the youngest, Gig, is... not employed. Not thought highly of. Not allowed out of their compound, or to think too much. But he is courageous enough to try and leave, firm of mind to ignore something horrific that happened seven years before, and gutsy enough to succeed in escaping. Or is he? How far can he ever leave his destiny behind in this backward frontier town?

Ms Parker plies a great trade in unusual fantasy. Here we have the distinctive setting, of a tabletop mountain inhabited by the met'Ocs, and all the other population in small patches of territory here and there. We have untold secrets of the society for Gig to discover, from the way of life of everyone else, and the life back at Home, on the other end of a failed silver-rush. And we have a very bizarre page 41, where said bad thing is alluded to, and not concretely mentioned again for many a page.

Those pages do turn briskly though, for every element here appeals. The characters, from the nasty met'Oc patriarch to the better-than-stereotype local farmers Gig's future will introduce him to, are fully wrought. The style remains crisp and visual throughout, if a little 'he said, she said' reliant. The character of this world, clearly an earthly one with the society the only real fantasy factor about it, is given through fine detail and subtle ways.

It's the combination of the mood and the plot however that is most memorable. This isn't a fully moody book, but has an edgy spirit, with the gritty, masculine, unspoken aspects. The story does at times hit on a big contrivance (primarily the chalk tunnel) but has the intended timeless feel suitable for its primitive environment.

In some regard it gets to feel more and more like a western film, as I say. An old man living with the native "savages" is perhaps the less convincing part, but is joined by lynch mobs, rebellion through some kind of industrious, frontier spirit (and control of armaments) - the more I mention the more it sounds like this is a relocated John Ford film, but I only intend to point out distinctive traits for the discerning fantasy fan.

This might not break out from the genre audience, but does serve for an unusual volume. The psychological aspect of the book, one man's deep moodiness against life and his world, probably hasn't been done this well before, and the storyline isn't certainly not plainly guessable, due to the edge our author sustains. It might have been snappier at times, but this author continues to be strong on the character sets of her male protagonists, and this will still appeal to numerable fans.

I must thank Orbit books for my review copy.

The prior stand-alone book from Ms Parker was The Folding Knife. For a further landed family's offspring suffering in a fantasy world, we recommend The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe.

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