This was my second read of the series, back-to-back all 5 volumes as the successor series (Vatta's Peace first volume Cold Welcome just came out and tThis was my second read of the series, back-to-back all 5 volumes as the successor series (Vatta's Peace first volume Cold Welcome just came out and tempted me on a quick browse) - first read was ~2008 and was similarly back to back all 5 volumes, so I remembered a lot of stuff (also forgot a lot too) and the somewhat less usual structure of the books compared to the usual mil space opera series as there are a lot of commercial/trading details, side stories, switches of pov after the first volume which mostly features Ky, while volumes 2-5 feature Stella, Grace, Toby, Rafe pretty much on par with the main heroine
Knowing the above helped a lot as this time I wasn't surprised about the seemingly derailment of the main story and enjoyed each sub-story and pov quite a lot, so overall I enjoyed the series considerably more on this second read.
As main points - the 5 volumes follow one another so they are actually a huge novel split into 5, the ending (another thing that bothered me on original read) is reasonable in the sense that the main conflict of the series (the "pirates") is brought to a satisfying conclusion but lots of loose ends remained and the stories of the main characters seemed just to pause in what I thought was the final book of the Vatta sequence so I had a partial unsatisfied feeling about the series as a whole as it seemed to build to a big picture climax while the ending just dealt with one issue - having the new series come out (which starts pretty much when the old one ends) should help here and that's what gave me an incentive to re-read the books, the characters and setting are captivating and knowing what to expect about all the nuts-and-bolts commercial and political issues as well as the side stories (the trial of Ky for impersonation on Cascadia, the Nexus vs Vatta issues or the Toby and Zori saga being some of such that seemed a padding of pages at first) made them enjoyable
The series starts innocuously with Ky being dismissed from her planet's starfleet academy and the first volume has her having adventures in space in the usual mil space opera mold, but from volume 2 which starts quite dramatically and switches the focus of the series on the big picture, the series changes as noted above, expanding to multiple locales and pov's
Overall greatly enjoyed it on second read as the main things that subtracted from my original read's enjoyment (the unexpected switch in focus from volume 2 and the many side stories/nut-and-bolts details, the unsatisfactory ending as the big picture/characters go) are not anymore an issue 9second read, new series continuing first), so i highly recommend this one...more
a provisional pretty good but not excellent opinion as this is the first book of a new Vatta series which seems to change tack (at least based on thea provisional pretty good but not excellent opinion as this is the first book of a new Vatta series which seems to change tack (at least based on the direction it seems to send the series - the ending being a big tbc) from a mil sf (fleets, space battles) space opera to something like an adventure/universe mysteries (long vanished civilizations, personal/smaller group adventures not in a definite military organization context) type of space opera - though the novel takes place mostly on Ky's home planet (and around it) but both its main twists and the ending hints go toward the above
while a page turner, the separation between the main characters (without giving more than the blurb, the novel is about Ky and company desperate survival story in quite inhospitable reaches of Slotter Key and the search/rescue operation conducted by Stella and eventually Rafe) and the new orientation of the novel (if you like reading about the polar adventures of Amundsen, Scott and such or about Captain Bligh's Bounty mutiny survival at sea you will devour this) left me a little disengaged from the story as there was little doubt how the main story line of the novel (the survival) will end though as noted there are some cool twists which will most likely form the content of further volumes
overall, good but needs strong follow up to get to the original series heights so will re-read when volume 2 is out...more
For once a much hyped debut that mostly lived up to expectations - set on a New World like continent where the analogue of 18th century French (SarresFor once a much hyped debut that mostly lived up to expectations - set on a New World like continent where the analogue of 18th century French (Sarresant) and English (Gand) colonies battle it out between themselves, while revolution is brewing in the New Sarresant capital with its faux-Versailles (Rasailles) analogue, not to speak of quite a few French language interludes here and there to reinforce that, with analogue native Americans on the side - here there are magical big beasts (this is one of the highlights of the novel as quite a few appear) roaming on the continent against which the colonists don't have good defenses so after they dispossessed and exterminated the tribes close to the shore - with the help of interior tribes which were their hereditary enemies - they built a "magical" barrier to stop the beasts, so cannot expand easily in the interior despite having the usual superior firepower (guns etc), but there is trade and occasional discovery expeditions as the colonists magic expands based on territory (and its qualities) size
Lots of magic and high stakes - sometimes i felt the novel has a little too much magic for my tastes - and pointy villain hats/shiny superhero (1)-heroines (those are 2) costumes pretty much from page 1 (or at least from the page where their pov's appear as the book has the 3 alternating in pov's with various interludes from other players, all split in seasons like parts from Spring to Winter), but entertaining, twists, powerful narrative and imagery and a book that i was skeptical to start with (those magic systems) but then couldn't put down when started as the narrative flow is so powerful that it makes one turn the pages to see what happens; good ending (with one more cool twist) though clearly a stopping point to be continued.
Definitely needs a re-read to pick subtler points (and the cryptic utterances of Sarine's magical reptilian like companion Zi who is one of the coolest characters of the novel - having Zi who manifests himself at will to anyone else so is unseen by most people incidentally makes Sarine one of the few ever to have two kinds of magical power, the colonists' kind with bindings of various types and the rare and unknown at start to most people color based which Zi manifests, while the tribes' magic with spirits and talking with the magical beasts is the 3rd kind of course)
Overall quite highly recommended and a top 10 of mine for the year with the sequel a huge asap (there is an author interview at the end which gives hints about where the sequel will go and what new characters will appear)...more
the best short novel from KJ Parker since Purple and Black to which it has some resemblance though it is now a first person narration set in the authothe best short novel from KJ Parker since Purple and Black to which it has some resemblance though it is now a first person narration set in the author generic Empire/Invincible Sun setting (the one without magic from books like Two of Swords, Sharps, Savages etc - with usual naming conventions, set-up, people, countries, provinces like the Sashan, Aram Vei, Scheria, permia) and has a present day annotation that explains the short novel (titled there Concerning the Monasteries) is the only extant first person narration document from the long ago Robur empire/civilization, so make of that whatever you want
the narrator is a 33 year old Imperial legate, nephew of the reigning empress, a former prostitute from a far away rural area of the empire who is caretaking the empire due to the illness of her husband, former general Ultor (that's when he married her, while retiring her best friend as an abbess of a far monastery and her regular clients to high window jumping or monastic orders), before taking the throne by arms;
it's the 5th year of the Emperor's incapacity and his end is assumed to be near, so the narrator is summoned to the palace and dispatched to the far North to take care of a pirate/raiders problem (the usual mysterious ones from other books) who plunder the rich monasteries that essentially own the impoverished North; the usual ironic, wry, likable, not the brightest flame but very well read and amenable to advice as well as liked by troops, officers and women (his aunt saved him a few times there from the wrath of the emperor when he was caught in fairly embarrassing situations with highly born noblewomen and princesses), the narrator sets up for the North, though not before taking care of a problem - in love with a high class prostitute himself, who doesn't quite care about him, he has to save her when she is knifed in the belly, so he buys a 6 Million house in the middle of the night as being mostly away on the front-lines, he doesn't have a City house to take her and bring doctors to tend to her... Not something to endear him to his aunt perhaps, but another escapade adding to his "popular" legend...
and so it goes with the usual happenings (double dealings, mysteries, battles, former friends and newer enemies) for some 130-40 pages of pure KJ Parker delight
and while the pirates/raiders are seemingly the immediate enemy, our hero doesn't really know who is ready to stab him in the back or poison him or for that matter using more ingenious killing devices as in:
"It’s amazing the number of people who’ve asphyxiated in their sleep since **** took office.”
while of course the City and the succession loom in the background - including relatives like the Empress even more favorite nephew Scaurus, some 10 power hungry generals and the aristocracy who would want nothing better that to depose the empire and return the power to the people - where of course:
"Get rid of the emperors, give power back to the people—quite; except the people never had any power at any stage in our history, which was probably just as well. In this context, the people means the two dozen ancient aristocratic families who own half the land in the empire, the six dozen rich men who hold the mortgages on that land, the priesthood and, of course, the army."
full of ironic and wry observations on the nature of power, the scope of empire, the endurance of culture and books, Mightier than the Sword is KJ Parker at his best and also it represents an excellent introduction to his work that can get one hooked on the author's style which is quite distinctive in today's fantasy
One more quote that gives a great flavor of the tone:
"Now, then. Concerning the Land and Sea Raiders. I guess we were so very scared of them because we had no idea who they were, where they came from, how many of them there were, what (beyond anything not nailed to the floor) they wanted. They showed up about a hundred and thirty years ago, during the reign of that old fire-eater Vindex II. Our first experience of them was seventy long, high-castled warships suddenly appearing off Vica Bay. The governor, a civilized man with several well-received volumes of theological essays to his name, sent a message to their leader inviting him to lunch. He came, and brought some friends; it was sixty years before Vica was rebuilt, by which time the harbour had silted up and all the channels had to be dredged out. Next they manifested themselves as a long column of ox-carts trundling over the Horns. They looked like refugees; skeletal cows and horses, sad women and threadbare children plodding along behind the wagons. The prefect of Garania went out to meet them with relief supplies, food, tents, blankets. They cut his head off and stuck it on their standard, before marching on Beal Epoir and burning it to the ground. That, of course, was about the time when General Maxen was at the height of his incredible career. He caught up with them a week later and hit them so hard that we were sure we’d never hear about them again. Maxen lasted rather longer than most of our great generals; about six years, and then his head got nailed to the lintel of Traitors’ Gate, along with all the others, so that when the Raiders came back there was nobody to deal with them."
Assuming you buy its premise and do not throw it away disgusted when it is - close but not quite imho though opinions may differ about that in quite aAssuming you buy its premise and do not throw it away disgusted when it is - close but not quite imho though opinions may differ about that in quite a few places - jumping the shark (among many oddities, the novel contains a viking saga poem in verse cca 930's about the sack of an Walmart (!!) cca 2010's), this is a delight: funny (don't remember when i laughed out loud so many times when reading a book), zany, quite subtle on occasion (while it seems to start in our universe cca early 2010's, there is the Trapezoid rather than the Pentagon for example...) and with a format that adds a lot to the story-line - while most of the narrative is a first person Victorian-style (with modern annotations crossed out) from Melisande (see the blurb) who is marooned in London 1851 and wants to write a memoir and deposit it in a secure vault to arrive in our present and witness the creation of the D.O.D.O. and her role in that, there are narrations in many voices (Rebecca East Oda, descendant of Salem (!!) witches and New England aristocratic matron, whose genius physicist husband Frank Oda former professor at MIT, hounded from academia for alleged mistreatment of cats as in "the Schrodinger Cat" experiment, is the brain behind the time-traveling machine at the heart of D.O.D.O, and Grainne, Irish witch/spy in Elizabeth I England ~1601 are some of the more distinctive voices and powerful characters of the novel), transcripts of official documents (from debriefings after action, email exchanges between characters to the diversity policy of D.O.D.O - this one is a hoot, not to speak of the Halloween dress code official paper), the aforementioned Viking saga in verse and much more.
While 750+ pages long, the book ends way too soon (would have loved to read another 700 pages) and has a very useful glossary of the "alphabet soup" typical of governmental organizations (most common being D.O.D.O - Department of Diachronic Operations, D.T.A.P - Destination Time and Place, D.E.D.E - Direct Engagement for Diachronic Effect and K.C.W - Known Compliant Witch -) and a cast of characters in the various times and places the novel takes place (both have some spoilers so knowing the main acronyms above is probably enough to avoid needing read it until halfway through the book at least)
The ending is excellent in many ways (and has enough closure to make the book a fully satisfying read on its own) though it really reads like a stopping point with more to come in future volumes (which i would highly welcome)
Overall - fast, funny, some mind bending stuff and lots of ingenuity, close but not quite jumping the shark on occasion and the top novel of the year for me to date...more