Next SFF Author: Lara Parker
Previous SFF Author: Christopher Paolini

SFF Author: K.J. Parker

In 2015 it was revealed that the name K.J. Parker is a pseudonym of author Tom Holt. Having worked in journalism and the law, K.J. Parker now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. Learn more at K.J. Parker’s website.



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Shadow: Immerse yourself in the world of an amnesiac

Shadow by K.J. Parker

Shadow by K.J. Parker is a difficult book to recommend because I highly enjoyed it, but I can also understand why many readers might hate it or be unable to finish it. It’s a unique book.

Shadow opens with the protagonist waking up surrounded by dead bodies and having no memory of who he is. He goes from one odd situation to another trying to make some sort of life for himself while trying to find out who he is and where he fits in the world. 


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Devices and Desires: Parker has a unique cynical voice

Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker

How could I not automatically love a book where the first line is: The quickest way to a man’s heart,’ said the instructor, ‘is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.” It was love at first sight. K.J. Parker’s Devices and Desires is a complex, quickly moving book that is filled with what I am quickly discovering to be Parker’s unique, cynical voice (and I do love dry cynicism).


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Evil for Evil: Complex and profound

Evil for Evil by K.J. Parker

Evil for Evil is the second book in K.J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy and it is probably one of the strongest “middle books” I’ve read. Evil for Evil hits the road running and not once does the plot slow down or ease up. Parker’s writing is, as always, rich, detailed, evocative and dry. The theme is the same: the importance, and ultimately destructiveness, of love as well as the importance of creation and desire. While these themes may seem rather mundane and arbitrary,


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The Escapement: Fascinating and provocative

The Escapement by K.J. Parker

The Escapement picks up where Evil for Evil left off. It’s shorter than the previous two books in The Engineer Trilogy, but for all its brevity, it’s still packed with surprises. After reading two books without fully knowing what is being manipulated and planned, readers are presented with nearly constant revelations regarding characters and plot points that had only been hinted at and alluded to before.

Up to this point in the trilogy, Parker has indirectly discussed love and the question of the existence of good and evil.


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The Company: A dark story that lingers

The Company by K.J. Parker

The Company has been called “military fantasy,” but I question both terms of that characterization. First, while The Company is absolutely not set in this world, there is nothing magical or fantastical about it. But if we define fantasy to include “an historical novel not set on this world,” then we’ve got a fantasy here, and I guess we must be satisfied with that. I also don’t see this as a military novel. Certainly, all the characters served together in a very long war,


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Purple and Black: Going to assign this to my political theory class

Purple and Black by K.J. Parker

You have to love a story that starts out with the line, “You are, of course, an unmitigated bastard.”

Purple and Black is a collection of the military dispatches sent back and forth between the new Roman Emperor Nicephorus and his best friend Phormio, who has reluctantly taken charge of the military at Nico’s insistence. Nico is appointing his friends to the important government positions because the empire has gone through seventy-seven emperors in the last one hundred years — all but a handful of them dying painful deaths.


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The Folding Knife: Highly recommended to anyone who can read

The Folding Knife by K.J. Parker

The back cover blurb describes K.J. Parker’s The Folding Knife like this:

Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani public is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power, and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he’s only ever made one mistake.


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Blue and Gold: Fast, intense, and dramatic

Update: We now know that K.J. Parker is a pseudonym of Tom Holt.

Blue and Gold by K.J. Parker

Talk about unreliable narrators! If you like that technique, you’re sure to enjoy K.J. Parker’s Blue and Gold. It’s a fast, intense, and dramatic little book that will entertain you for an afternoon.

Saloninus is probably the cleverest alchemist who ever lived (or is he?). After publishing several important (?) papers and losing his tuition money, he drops out of the university and begins a life of crime,


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The Hammer: Entertaining but deceptively deep

The Hammer by K.J. Parker

Gignomai met’Oc is the youngest son of a once-noble family that, decades ago, fell out of favor and was exiled from the Empire’s capital to a remote and comparably primitive colony established 70 years before the start of the novel. The met’Oc family is really twice isolated, as it lives on a plateau separate from the rest of the colony, with which it lives in an uneasy kind of not-quite-peace. While Gig’s older brothers Luso and Stheno have their own responsibilities around the house, Gig has enough free time to get into trouble,


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Sharps: It’s written by K.J. Parker

Sharps by K.J. Parker

Sharp swords, dirty books and pickled cabbage. Why has everything on this trip got to be horrible?

The neighboring kingdoms of Permia and Scheria have always been enemies. Some of their citizens like it this way — particularly those of the military aristocracies who are valued (and therefore kept in power) by their countrymen when the two kingdoms are at war. The last war ended, though, when General Carnufex of Scheria managed to divert a few rivers and flood a major Permian city, killing its entire population of thousands of people.


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Academic Exercises: A collection of stories from an original voice

Academic Exercises by K.J. Parker

K.J. Parker is a relatively recent discovery of mine, and she (?) is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Known for her dry cynicism, understated humor, and intriguing explorations of morality, her stories are set in a historically informed world fleshed out with Parker’s rich historical knowledge.

Collected here in her first anthology, Academic Exercises, her short fiction has so far won two World Fantasy Awards for her novellas “A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” and “Let Maps to Others.” Included in this anthology are also three non-fiction essays on historical subjects such as siege warfare,


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Savages: A solid new novel by K.J. Parker

Savages by K.J. Parker

A pacifist who inherits his father’s failing arms business, a general who wins all of his battles and sets in motion the fate of empires because of decisions he makes in the last second before a battle commences, a tribesman who loses his family and survives an attempt at his life to become, well, every single thing he chooses to be. Those and many other memorable characters populate K.J. Parker‘s newest standalone novel, Savages, a solid offering that is sure to please readers of the author’s previous works.


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The Last Witness: A fascinating study of memory

The Last Witness by K.J. Parker

The Last Witness is another of K.J. Parker’s novellas in which an unreliable first-person narrator tells us the story of his unfortunate life. This technique worked brilliantly in Blue and Gold, and it does so again here.

The Last Witness is about a man who, when he was a boy, realized that he had the magical ability to remove people’s memories from their brains.


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The Two of Swords: Much to admire across the series

The Two of Swords: Volumes One, Two, and Three by K. J. Parker

Reading any of K.J. Parker’s books will reveal that he is deeply skeptical of human nature, very much including the feelings and ideals that usually get the best press. He passed his witheringly critical eye over romantic love in the ENGINEER trilogy, platonic friendship in The Company, and in THE TWO OF SWORDS series,


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Downfall of the Gods: As good a novella as his award-winning ones

Downfall of the Gods by K.J. Parker

Who do you fear when you’re an immortal god?

Your father seems worthy of your fear. He is older, more powerful, perhaps wiser. His wrath can make your life a living hell, and you don’t want to be the one god in your family that strays far from the godly path you’re born to follow. Your life is eternal, and that is both blessing and curse. Fortunately, there are a handful of talented human beings in every generation, and a truly wonderful musician has arisen.


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Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City: My kind of war story

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

Anything written by K.J. Parker is a must-read for me. I love his work and recommend it to anyone looking for exciting stories with unique, intelligent, and often unreliable, heroes. Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (2019) is no exception.

Orhan is a master bridge builder who’s slightly corrupt (you have to be if you want to get anything done on time and within budget in this city). He arrived in the city when he was a child after his parents were killed and the enemy enslaved him.


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How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It: Entertaining sequel

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. Parker

I wasn’t expecting a sequel to K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, but was delighted to see one because Parker is on my (very short) must-read list. While How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It (2020) is marketed as book #2 of his THE SIEGE series, it takes place several years later and has a different set of characters,


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Magazine Monday: Online stories by Sterling and Parker

Today we’re featuring a couple of stories that you can find free online.

“Taklamakan” by Bruce Sterling

Read for free online

Many years ago, Bruce Sterling wrote a short story called “Taklamakan” that won a Hugo award. I’ve been trying to read some past award winners, and since this one was handily available, I decided to start there. So, here’s my problem. “Taklamakan” won the Hugo Award for best short story in 1999 when it was published in the Oct/Nov 1998 issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine.


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Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2013

Editor’s note: We now know that K.J. Parker is author Tom Holt.

The Summer 2013 issue of Subterranean Magazine has a special K.J. Parker section, which is a treat for anyone who has read any of Parker’s work. This author (gender unknown) writes from the perspective of a military historian, and appears to have a special interest in ancient Greek and Roman warfare. All of his/her stories have the flavor of ancient days.

“The Sun and I” is the first of two Parker stories in this issue.


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Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Winter 2014

The Winter 2014 issue of Subterranean Magazine was edited by guest editor Jonathan Strahan, the editor of a popular year’s best anthology and a number of other anthologies. He has good taste, as the stories chosen for this issue demonstrate — with the exception of the longest and last piece, a snarky bit of irreligious, virtually plotless prose by Bruce Sterling (about which more below).

“The Scrivener” by Eleanor Arnason is structured as a fairy tale often is, with three daughters each setting out on an errand prescribed by their father.


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Magazine Monday: Subterranean Magazine, Summer 2014

To the dismay of all lovers of great speculative short fiction, the Summer issue of Subterranean Magazine is its last. This magazine was notable not just for the quality of its fiction, but for its willingness to publish short fiction at the novelette and novella lengths. The Summer issue ably demonstrates just what we’re going to be missing.

The magazine begins with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pushing the Sky Away (Death of a Blasphemer).” The first person narrator is in desperate straits, her water and morphine gone, lost in a building of endless hallways,


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Magazine Monday: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Issue 157

The sixth anniversary edition of Beneath Ceaseless Skies is a double issue, with four excellent stories.

The first is “The Sorrow of Rain” by Richard Parks, one of his Lord Yamada stories. Lord Yamada is a demon hunter in medieval Japan who tells his stories in the first person. On this occasion, he has been asked to stop incessant, late season rains; if the rains do not stop long enough to allow for a harvest within the next three days, the rice will spoil in the fields, leading to famine.


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SHORTS: Vernon, Sloan, Parker, Poe, Wood, Bear

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about.

“Jackalope Wives” by Ursula Vernon (2014, free at Apex Magazine, podcast available)

Ursula Vernon’s “Jackalope Wives” is the winner of this year’s Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award for short story and deservedly so. It certainly has my vote. It isn’t clear where the story is set. All we know is that on the outskirts of town lies a desert,


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SHORTS: Parker, Bova, Resnick, Porter

There is so much free or inexpensive short fiction available on the internet these days. Here are a few stories we read this week that we wanted you to know about. 

“Amor Vincit Omnia” by K.J. Parker (2010, free at Subterranean Press, republished in Academic Exercises, a short fiction anthology by K.J. Parker)

In a world where magic is considered a branch of natural philosophy and is practiced only by a secretive group of scholars, the normal order of things is upset when a rogue magician appears and starts violently murdering innocent villagers,


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SHORTS: Shepard, de Bodard, Bear, Jemisin, Parker, Holland

Our weekly exploration of free short fiction available on the internet. This week’s theme, just for fun, is stories dealing with dragons. 

The Man Who Painted The Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard (1984, free online at Baen.com (sample from the Bestiary anthology), originally published in Fantasy & Science Fiction, also collected in The Dragon Griaule). 1985 Hugo and 1984 Nebula nominee (novelette), 1985 World Fantasy Award nominee (novella)

In 19th century South America, “in a world separated from this one by the thinnest margin of possibility,” a 6,000 foot long,


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Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery

Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan & Lou Anders

Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword & Sorcery is a book I’ve been eagerly anticipating ever since it was first announced in 2009. I was particularly excited about the anthology’s impressive list of contributors which includes several authors I enjoy reading like Glen Cook, Greg Keyes, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Garth Nix, Tim Lebbon, Caitlin R.


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Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2

Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 edited by William Schafer

EDITOR INFORMATION: William K. Schafer is the head editor at Subterranean Press, which was founded in 1995. Schafer’s bibliography includes Embrace the Mutation: Fiction Inspired by the Art of J.K. Potter and the first Tales of Dark Fantasy anthology.

ABOUT SUBTERRANEAN: TALES OF DARK FANTASY 2: Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy — published in 2008 to widespread critical and popular acclaim — provided a unique showcase for some of our finest practitioners of dark,


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The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014: An enjoyable collection

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2014 edited by Rich Horton

I’ve been reading a lot of anthologies lately, including another of the several “Year’s Best” collections (the Jonathan Strahan one). I was pleased to find that, unlike some of the others, this one matched my tastes fairly well for the most part.

I enjoy stories in which capable, likeable or sympathetic characters, confronted by challenges, confront them right back and bring the situation to some sort of meaningful conclusion. I was worried when I read the editor’s introduction and saw him praising Lightspeed and Clarkesworld magazines,


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Next SFF Author: Lara Parker
Previous SFF Author: Christopher Paolini

We have reviewed 8298 fantasy, science fiction, and horror books, audiobooks, magazines, comics, and films.

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