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

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It by K.J. ParkerI 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, so it’s not a requirement that you read Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City first. I’d recommend that you do read these books in order, though, because the background is a bit helpful and, in my opinion, the first book is better.

Despite the actions of Orhan, the defender of the city in the previous book, the city remains under siege by the possibly crazy man outside the walls and his accompanying army. The citizens inside the walls have grown used to this state of affairs, even to large boulders occasionally being catapulted over the walls and smashed into their houses.

One of these citizens is Notker, a struggling actor and playwright who is best known for his spot-on impersonations of political figures. His most popular target is Lysimachus, the current ruler of the city. When Lysimachus goes missing (apparently the victim of one of the aforementioned rocks), Notker is pressed into a new role. That’s how he finds himself pretending to be Lysimachus and ruling his besieged city.

Fortunately, Notker has a few experiences that will help him in his new job. His father was a boss of one of the city’s gangs and, before Notker rejected that lifestyle, he was his father’s apprentice. He learned a lot about manipulating people by watching his father threaten, shake down, and beat up subordinates and enemies. And then, of course, there’s the theater, where Notker learned how to study, speak passionately, pretend, tell lies, use props, and misdirect peoples’ attention.

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It is entertaining. I love imposter tales (reminds me of Double Star by Robert A. Heinlein) and Parker is always a great storyteller. All of his stories are smart, though I didn’t think this one was as clever and original as Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City. Notker’s voice is too much like Orhan’s and some of the plot elements are repetitive, too. The secondary characters could have been better developed.

Hachette Audio’s version is narrated by Ray Sawyer whose male voices are fabulous but whose female voices are atrocious. How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It is almost 13 hours long.

Published in August 2020. This is the history of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through. The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor, and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, it turns out that people enjoy the theater just as much when there are big rocks falling out of the sky. But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the empire needs him — or someone who looks a lot like him — for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune, and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him first. In the follow up to the acclaimed Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, K. J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes, and he might even get away with it.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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