Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

Devices and Desires

“The world is full of annoyances, none more infuriating than a fool with a valid point.”

Sometimes being dry is a good thing. Nobody likes a wet cracker. (Not the derogatory term.) If humor is your thing, I find the drier the better. If you want to dehydrate one of your personal enemies, throwing them into an arid landscape is always the best form of punishment. And if the mere simplicity of Jim Butcher’s writing is growing old, being dry is a good thing. It was refreshing to say the least. Six hundred odd pages of dry prose, though, was not, even if written very well.

(Don’t forget the sometimes jarring “Query;” overused semicolons and parentheses, and extreme description of things I have no interest in.)

So begins my adventure into a land titled “Low Fantasy;” a story rich with no heroes or villains, only men and women trying to gain their own spot in the world. Not everyone is bad, like the duty bound Miel Ducas and the whiny, if somewhat brave and foolhardy, Duke Orsea. Others, like Duke Valens, the romantic anti-hero of this novel, and Ziani Vaatzes, the closest you have to a protagonist, are closer to what a true character is supposed to be grayed out about.

Parker nails the head on characterization here. Few people felt one-dimensional. With so many POVs, so many stories and sub-plots different from one another, that’s expected.

Slogging through the boring prose and predictable plot was another thing, however.

If you could take a thriller writer and make them edit this story, pick out the many things that don’t work for pacing’s sake, this book would probably be an amazing read. Truly. But the pace drags so, so, so much. It’s not an understatement. Some things even happen that I believe have no relation to the story, no use for world-building or character development. The chapter with Miel and Ziani talking about history and geography was a complete info-dump, unneeded.

“The easiest way to do anything is properly.”

The plot was predictable as well. Ziani’s gambit and “treachery” were easy to spot. I knew how the Mezentines were going to overtake the city, the impregnable fortress. It’s easy to notice, frankly. That’s poor storytelling. But the boar hunt did catch me off-guard. That was well-executed and smart. I’ll give Parker that.

This is military fantasy, low and thick. The scorpion fight in the last one hundred pages was amazing, I must add. The three hundred pages in the middle, though, were hard to trudge through.

Don’t get me wrong; this is a strong story, well written with great characters and a truly magnificent turn of events, intriguing. I can’t wait for the next two books. How Valens will deal with this new war is interesting. How he will deal with Veatriz, his love and enemy’s wife, is something to really look forward to. I’m assured he will be a much better leader than Orsea, anyway. But Devices and Desires felt like moving chess pieces around. (A small nod to this is even in the book.)

But running into the dry prose again, lengthy and all, is daunting. Really daunting.

Rating: 7/10

One thought on “Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

  1. “The three hundred pages in the middle, though, were hard to trudge through.”

    I rarely just give up on a book, but this is the part where I put this one down and never returned. I thought the story, plot and (for the most part) characters were intriguing, but the execution was flawed, primarily in the pacing, as you pointed out.

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