Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Two of Swords (Part Nine) - K.J. Parker

Two of Swords is the new serialised novel by K.J. Parker. The first nine parts are available now, and run to about eighty pages each. Further parts will be made available on a monthly basis. I’m going to try and put out a review for one of the currently available, and then review each new part in the month where it becomes available.

Part Nine brings us back to Telamon, a wetwork specialist for the Craftsmen. She has a dry wit, and an ability to react quickly which makes her a pleasure to read –e specially in dialogue. She also has a tendency to get dragged into appallingly dangerous tasks, and a sort of tired amorality, which strikes a wonderfully dissonant note alongside her love of beauty and literature. There’s something to be said for an individual who can ruminate on the interpretation of classical literature one minute, and casually slit a throat the next.

In this segment, she’s paired up with Oida, whom we’ve also seen before. He’s a spectacularly successful composer, a bridge between the Eastern and Western Empires in their civil war, and, at least in Telamon’s eyes, completely insufferable. On the other hand, he has a ready wit, gives as good as he gets in their exchanges, and seems to have less hidden depths and more hidden chasms. It sometimes seems like even Oida doesn’t know who Oida is, and Telamon is similarly baffled.

The relationship between the two is the heart of this segment. It’s a great read as well. The dialogue is sharp – sharp enough to cut yourself on at times. Both parties spend a lot of time together, and their jostling, arguments and rapprochements are highly entertaining.  At the same time, there’s a sense of two people struggling to articulate themselves in a genuine way, beneath a veneer of detachment that is required in their positions. Parker manages to portray both Telamon and Oida as quietly fragile people, encased in personae which do not allow that fragility, that humanity, to surface. It’s intriguing to watch the flickers of something different under the layers of expectation. There’s a wonderful discussion around the nature of reasons, and the way in which there are layers of truth issued for every purpose – only the third of which is the ‘real’ reason. Both characters are cloaked in various layers of reasons, some of which they use to mislead both each other and themselves. It’s a masterclass in drawing characters in a few pages, exposing their nature whilst simultaneously keeping it behind a curtain. By the close, it feels as if we know Telamon and Oida better – and that they know themselves better as well. Though with Parker, either or both of those may be misleading.

Laced around the character drama which is the centre of the text, are a variety of adventures for Telamon. The covert mission she ends up engaged in is fast paced, with a sense of tension seeping through it which transfers to the reader. There’s enough action here to keep anyone entertained, and it acts as a nice counterpoint to the verbal sparring happening elsewhere in the text. It also has what looks like consequences for other parts of the plot – at least as much has currently been revealed. I’m still not entirely sure where the narrative as a whole is going, but this fusion of clever, interesting and intriguing dialogue, and action with weight and consequences is extremely compelling.

By now, you’ve already decided whether you’re enjoying Two of Swords as a whole; I will say though, that this is one of the stronger parts so far, and I enjoyed reading it immensely.

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