Two of Swords is the new serialised novel by K.J. Parker. The first ten 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 Ten brings us back to Oida, the composer and purportedly closest thing in this entire sequence to a neutral party. I’m not at all convinced that this is the case, and that’s becoming more obvious with each release. Nonetheless, he’s our protagonist for this part of the sequence.
From a world building perspective – well, we get to see a bit more of the countryside. Most of it is rather empty, and Parker manages to evoke a mood of hasty desolation rather well. As Oida treks through fields left to rack and ruin, and houses with meals cooling on their tables, there’s a sense of a world on hold. It’s depopulated farmsteads and empty spaces seem to suggest a narrative hush – a sense that a storm is about to break. The fields and broken tracks are meticulously described – and if they don’t feel exactly alive, maybe that’s the point – they certainly feel convincing.
Oida only really interacts with one individual in this segment – his carriage driver. The man is laconic, and in his own trade, seemingly an expert. The convolutions Oida goes through as he attempts to get to know the man are rather fascinating to watch – as is Oida’s ability to cloak his personality in another, in order to get the most out of his companion. It brings to mind the “layers of reasons” brought up in the previous segment. Here, Oida moves at a less complex emotional level – doing what he believes has to be done, shaping his journey, and seeming in many ways more chameleon than man. That said, he’s still great fun to read; his exchanges with the carriage driver are frequently witty, and almost always clever. Parker’s always had a gift for writing acerbic, intelligent dialogue that demands the reader’s attention, and he utilises that gift here, fully. The dialogue scintillates, even when most of it is, strictly speaking, a monologue. Still, Oida is delightfully aggravated, amusingly aggravating, startlingly intelligent, and wonderfully amoral.
On the other hand, it’s just as well that Oida’s such an intriguing read, because as far as I can tell, he’s not really up to much. Most of his time seems to be spent trekking across the empty Empire, trying to track people down. As an opener, this works rather well, and we learn quite a bit about the current geo-political situation just by tracking Oida’s musings on the subject. There’s a sense that events are happening somewhere off screen, and we, like Oida, are somewhat in the dark about exactly what’s going on, and who exactly is doing what to whom. As the segment comes to a close, the tension ratchets up – Oida has to make some hard choices, and the results of those voices were rather surprising. Still, it doesn’t have the same taut terror of his nightime operations with Telamon in earlier segments. That said, it still works reasonably well.
Is it worth reading? Well, it’s becoming harder to read each segment as a stand-alone at this point. But if you’re already invested in the sequence, then there’s some interesting material here, which appears to be opening the pathway up to a fascinating conclusion. So yes, it’s worth carrying on with this part of the sequence, if only (though I would say not only) to find out what happens next !