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.
There’s a war between two nations, as there usually is, and the losing nation has managed to get a hold of a brilliant strategist by the name of Calojan, whose name means little dog in his home nation and whose father was a famous artist of pornographic paintings featuring his wife. Calojan employs the Aram Cosseilhatz, one of five nomadic tribes residing in the Eastern empire whose horse archers prove to be adept at their job, and so begins this interesting tale of war, treachery, intrigue. And because this is a K.J. Parker novel, who is in turn the comedy novel writer Tom Holt, there are funny, if somewhat dry, witticisms.
As I sit here thinking about what to write about this novel I am finding hard not to just describe it as a quintessential K.J. Parker novel and call it a day. It would make writing this review easier and be the best description of this novel I could offer. Those who have read his other works, particularly his shorter fiction, already have an idea of what to expect from Savages. Those who have yet to read a Parker story, and I would recommend that you do so because you’re missing out, would be hard pressed to understand just how singular his stories are by just reading a short description of them.
Savages reads more like a long novella than the usual novel by not having a well-established goal which drives the story and the characters forward. Of course, all the characters are driven by a sense of self preservation and ambition, but there’s not an event which, were it to happen, would cause the reader to say, “Ok, yeah, this right here is a satisfying conclusion of the novel’s primary conflict.” Since Savages grew out from Parker’s current serial project, THE TWO OF SWORDS, one can understand how this predicament came about.
Comparing this novel with Parker’s other works, Savages reads more like The Folding Knife than, for example, Sharps. The focus is more on what you could call economical and strategic action than physical action with rapiers and messers, as it was in Sharps (there’s also what I am pretty sure is a reference to Basso, the protagonist from The Folding Knife, as the crazy old man that says he was once the king of Vesani, even if Vesani is actually a republic and not a monarchy). Savages also features the best quantitative easing joke I’ve ever read, which is a very K.J. Parker thing to say.
Savages is most likely not the best place to start with Parker’s longer works, though it can’t hurt, but it still is a solid, entertaining, entry in what is one of the most imaginative and singular (and if you take into account what’s been written under Tom Holt’s name, prolific) authors in the fantasy genre, and it has by all means my utmost recommendation.