Li's Reviews > Devices and Desires

Devices and Desires by K.J. Parker
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's review
Mar 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fantasy, ebook, owned
Recommended for: Seven
Read from July 05 to November 15, 2011 — I own a copy , read count: 1

Told primarily from the perspectives of men who tend to overanalyze the world, often including their own emotionally-charged decisions, it's really kind of an ironic commentary on the dangers of trusting in rational thought to the exclusion of emotion. But instead of simply pitting emotion against logic and having emotion "win" to make the point as is so often done, Parker's using characters who are inclined to trust rationality over emotion to make a more complex argument: it's not that one is better than the other, but that you really need a bit of both.

Probably I'm a minority in that I see a lot of myself in Ziani and Valens and how they distance themselves from their emotional reactions. To me, it was an odd kind of "treat" to get to see characters who kind of "think like me," because more often when I'm reading books, I feel a lot like Ziani, wondering why people do such strange things, so "illogically," while sometimes ending up confused as to why I, too, end up acting illogically at times, and trying to rationalize emotions away.

But because I empathize with them, I also feel like the narrative is really kind of gently poking fun at them (and me, and maybe the author themself-- it feels a bit like the sort of self-mockery I would do, at least) for being so focused on facts that trying to understand why people do emotional things suddenly becomes alien. And in not recognizing emotions in other people, they also miss the significance of their own emotional reactions, and this ends up throwing wrenches into otherwise carefully wrought plans (and basically starts the whole mess to begin with).

The book itself has a rather "light" tone for the grim topics it covers, which reminds me a bit of Victorian fiction, and fiction based around the Victorian time period like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, even though D&D itself is not particularly Victorianesque. It's almost comical at times, and it's not particularly "realistic" in the sense that the actions of the characters are definitely exaggerated on both ends, but it's not meant to be realistic the way a book/series like Game of Thrones is. Rather, the writing style seems meant to evoke the perspective of someone who is distanced from the world, to give the reader an idea of what it's like to be one of those characters, but the plot itself kind of speaks to how it doesn't entirely think this perspective is ideal, since it focuses entirely on the emotional reactions of everyone, and how these are, in fact, important motivators.

Aside from tone, the worldbuilding is interesting. I really enjoy that Ziani and the rest of the Mezentines are considered the most technologically advanced society in their world, and also seem to be a non-white society (or at least, I choose to read it that way, so perhaps I'm wrong, but they are frequently described as "darker"). Not having read the rest of the trilogy, I'm still a bit on the fence if this is a good thing or a bad one, given the Mezentines are the primary antagonists, but Ziani is also one of the main protagonists, and is not simply turning against his people or his old life, even though he's currently at odds with them.

But I did get a little frustrated that the story is still entirely about men. There's two (or three, I suppose) important women in the story, but both of them are only really important for being catalysts for the men who are actually allowed to do anything, and we're leaning toward the narrative painting one of them as "unfaithful," which. I have some issues with the romantic plot, given originally I really liked the idea of a story actually giving me a friendship that was equally as important as a romance. And now it is looking like the following books may take that away from me.

So that's partly why I haven't picked up the second book, because I'm a little afraid to find it telling me that the friendship really is "more than" and not just close or intense, yet platonic. But I liked the first book as kind of "fluff" reading for me, so I will probably pick up the other two eventually.

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