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

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

2012/23: The Hammer -- K J Parker

Gignomai picked up his book, but he’d lost interest in it long ago. He’d stolen it for Furio last year, because Furio liked books with knights and tournaments and castles and dragons. But most of the characters in it were just like his family, though the author didn’t seem to have realised that, or he wouldn’t have made them out to be heroes. (p.88)

Gignomai met'Oc is the youngest son of a noble family, living in splendid (and squalid) isolation in a nameless colony. The met'Oc family home is on the Tabletop, an easily-defended upland: the family's power, though somewhat in decline since their exile from Home, is maintained by their possession of the only firearms in the whole of the colony. The rest of the colonists eke out a hand-to-mouth existence, trading with Home for the manufactured goods that can't be acquired in any other way.

(The colony, by the way, occupies a small corner of the land formerly inhabited by the so-called Savages: as becomes clear later in the novel, the Savages couldn't give a damn about the colonists, because they don't believe the colonists are real in any significant sense.)

The novel opens with young Gignomai using a sledgehammer to crack a nut -- or, rather, solving the problem of a chicken-thieving wolf by overly drastic means. "Next time, he decided, I'll make sure I think things through." (p.7) Next time ... but next time is fourteen years later, and the collateral damage is proportionately higher.

The Hammer is a novel of three parts: 'Seven Years Before', 'The Year When' and 'Seven Years After'. It should come as no surprise that we don't learn what happened in that pivotal year until quite late in the book. Whatever it was, though (and it's not quite as grim as the linchpin of The Belly of the Bow), it's the straw that breaks Gig's back, sends him sneaking out past his father's sentries into the colony, with a stolen heirloom and a massive grudge against his whole family.

Gignomai is a likeable character, with friends who seem fond of him (some of the narrative is from their viewpoints). He's hard-working and surprisingly humble, though apparently unable to let go of a certain sense of noblesse oblige. He's not a typical met'Oc, though: instead of wanting to rule the colony, he comes up with a plan to make it independent. "The colony gets rid of Home, everybody gets the stuff they need – even the savages, so they’re doing well out of it. Everybody gains, nobody gets hurt. What could be better than that?" (p.131) Unfortunately, he doesn't realise -- or perhaps doesn't care -- that he's in a K J Parker novel, that nothing is ever that simple, and that no good will come of it.

There's rather more tidying-up, fewer loose ends, at the end of this novel than in some of Parker's earlier works: one might almost say that the motivations and morals are hammered home. (ahahaha). I've remarked before on Parker's tendency to use pronouns instead of names, and the inevitable confusions and misreadings that ensure: this is much less noticeable in The Hammer than in, for instance, The Company. And though the action, the scheming, the grand plan are necessarily at a smaller scale in Parker's standalone novels than in the Fencer, Scavenger and Engineer trilogies, there are advantages to this: The Hammer is a well-structured book that brings us closer to its protagonist than we ever were to Bardas, Poldarn or Vaatzes.

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