No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

#46: Evil for Evil -- K J Parker

A beautiful design like yours encourages luck to happen: you attract it, like decoying geese.

In the second volume of the Engineer trilogy, the plot becomes more tortuous. Ziani Vaatzes' plan, his Machine that may or may not mean the end of the world, moves into another phase, with the help of his new recruit Daurenja -- a monster of a man to look at, with an impressive CV that enables him to solve engineering problems that baffle Vaatzes.

Meanwhile the Eremian nation is on the run, though there's a creditable resistance (organised by Miel Ducas, who's still driven by duty even while acknowledging it as a form of that monstrous thing called Love) and the Mezentine army is finding occupation a little more troublesome than anticipated.

And Veatriz, plus ineffectual husband Orsea, find themselves thrown on the mercy of Duke Valens (who is sulking about not being able to write long rambling letters to Veatriz now that she's part of his court).

The glory's in the detail, though: the neat understated revelation about the instigator of Vaatzes's original deviation from Specification; the gradual sense that, for all Vaatzes' doomy scheming, there might be a greater plot in motion that he's merely another component of; the exploration of the many and varied ways in which men and women may be made into weapons; and the realisation that, without Duty and all that chivalrous nobility, Miel Ducas (still the most likeable character, for my money) is the very worst sort of weapon, a loose cannon.

Still: Valens gets married (for political reasons) and ends up betrayed by a man whose very name should've indicated he was up to no good (I missed mention of him in the first novel). Vaatzes' wife Ariessa turns out to have some secrets of her own (and I can't help wondering if one of those secrets is a change of name). Horrible things happen to Miel Ducas, not least (possibly, and at the most inappropriate moment possible) Love. Orsea's tale continues just as it ought. A quantity of sulphur is delivered, and the fine art of pottery-glazing revealed in more depth than anyone might expect from an alleged fantasy novel. . And meanwhile in the labyrinthine offices of Mezentine bureaucracy, Psellus is ending up with rather more work than he expected.

... Oh, it's all so bleak. And yet funny, and fascinating, and tragic and epic and convoluted.

(I could nitpick about Parker's overuse of pronouns -- it can be tricky to disentangle a passage such as "there were times she wished she hadn't had to marry him. It had made sense at the time, of course, when he'd [a different 'he'] explained it to her". I could remark upon the occasionally clumsy proofreading -- nobody's eyebrows narrow when they're thinking -- or the hammering-home of one point or another by frequent epigrammatic utterances on same. But through the rose-tinted spectacles of appreciation, admiration and enjoyment, I find these traits appealing.)

I am desperate to read the final volume of the trilogy, even though I suspect it will not end well for any of the characters I like.


  1. Anonymous7:51 pm

    You know, i have been looking for another review of Evil for Evil all over the internet and I'm very glad i found yours. Not only was it a good review it also agreed with many of my own thoughts; i still cant understand how Parker made me feel so much sympathy for a man as whiny and pathetic as the Ducas. It's sad.

  2. Dear Anon
    I think the sympathy comes from seeing his descent from high to low. He's definitely a wretch by the end (which makes me keen to see what Parker does with him in the third book) but I can't help thinking of him as an innocent party caught up in the Plan. All the bad stuff couldn't happen to him if he'd been a less likeable / morally upright character.

  3. In one of those amazing congruences of fate, while googling Miel Ducas to make sure I was making idle reference to the right Parker character, this review is the first hit. :D

    I hadn't really considered this until you laid things out so neatly here, but the Engineer trilogy is, in some ways, the most Shakespearean Parker - overtones of the convoluted comedies and the long-nursed tragedies.

    1. oooh! Why are you making idle references to Miel Ducas?
      (I wish Parker, or someone, would tie up the loose ends in MD's story ...)