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

Friday, October 15, 2010

2010/75: Blue and Gold -- K J Parker

I'd finally given her what she wanted, the elixir of eternal youth, effected by the removal of her internal fire (the catalyst of change) through the agency of death. She'd have been so pleased, if only she'd been there to see it. Still, you can't have everything ... (p. 70)
Saloninus, philosopher and alchemist and the 'greatest living authority on ethical theory', is on the run. His wife is dead (having imbibed one of Saloninus' experimental concoctions) and his brother-in-law Phocas, the Prince Regent, is keen to keep Saloninus around, to harness that alchemical genius for his own ends. If Saloninus can transmute base metal to gold, Phocas might finally forgive him for the death of his own wife, executed for adultery...

Blue and Gold, set in the same world as The Folding Knife -- I'm unsure whether it's contemporaneous: there doesn't seem to be obvious crossover -- is a novella about another individual who's amoral, dishonest and too clever for his own good. Saloninus is unexpectedly charming, and always several steps ahead of his own narrative (which is, he warns us, thoroughly unreliable). Parker teases us with scraps of alchemical theory, allusions to Saloninus's philosophical works (Ethical Dilemmas, On Form and Substance) and discussions of the real challenges on the table: explosives, the gold standard, the impossibility of the colour blue.

Short, erudite and witty: great fun.

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