Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book review: "The Proof House" by K. J. Parker

After "The Belly of the Bow" I was dreading to read its sequel, "The Proof House". But K. J. Parker's writing is so good and he has more books in the same setting, so I just couldn't skip this one.

In "The Proof House" we again meet with Loredan family and their friends. Few years after the events at Scona, Baradas Loredan is currently a sapper in Empire's army, besieging the town of Ap' Escatoy, a siege that has taken some years. He more or less accidentally terminates the siege and becomes a hero of the Empire, which earns him a sinecure at the so-called Proof House - a factory for producing and testing armor. But this position won't last long, because Empire has decided to conquer the Plains, ruled by King Temrai, and who better to lead it than Temrai's old enemy, Baradas...

First, the setting gets another large expansion, with introduction of the Empire. It is a vast, continent spanning empire, where you need weeks to travel over it even by usage of fast carriages at Post Service. It is ruled by Sons of Heaven, tall and aesthetic people based on Arabs (partially). You can get best impression of Empire by the importance it puts on Perimadeia, Shastel, Scona and Island - it dismisses them completely. I read somewhere that Empire will take a much larger role in following books.

One of distinct features for this trilogy was scenes that deal with the Principle. I can't say exactly what, but they are different here than in last two books. More strange, and more abstract. And of course, the explanations actually confuse you more.

Story is typical for Parker, with lots of unexpected twists and side-stories. Temrai's plot is funny at the beginning, but you ask yourself for how long, because this is Parker after all... There are a lot military scenes and parts, which are done with a lot of details and expertise. Politics play a large part, especially with the Island sub-story.

There is no new characters in "The Proof House", except few unnamed Sons of Heaven and one Island trader, so you know what you can expect. They are really a piece of work. I don't want to reveal any spoilers, but you can expect bleak ending for most, or you could say all, characters... There is a place in the book where Iseutz does a great summation of the Loredan family. Baradas is really scary, which I didn't realize before.

But I presume that you are wondering about the feel of this book. After that surprise in "The Belly of the Bow", I was prepared for everything in "The Proof House". It is a very bleak book, mixing fun and revulsion between scenes. Casual storytelling of violence of war reminds me of Erikson, even though with more extreme examples. One important feature: battles are only lost, never won. This is not a sick book like middle one, but the ending... I don't know whether to laugh or cry...

I have to mention that Parker is a great writer - for first two chapters he is focused only on hear, taste, smell and touch - there is not one clue enabling you to visualize the scenes.

All in all, I am satisfied with "The Proof House". It is not for everyone's taste, with its violence and bleakness. But if you like "Colours in the Steel" and survived "The Belly of the Bow", I think you will enjoy this one. For the whole "The Fencer Trilogy", I give it a solid passing mark.

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