Liviu's Reviews > Sharps

Sharps by K.J. Parker
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's review
Jul 11, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2012_release_read, genre-fantasy, read_2012, top_25_2012_novels
Read from May 22 to 29, 2012

Sharps is vintage KJ Parker but also the most complex of the author's standalone novels, while bringing elements from all the author's oeuvre and connecting with earlier works like Purple and Black which is alluded in the book - though of course as it is KJ Parker, the details may not be precisely the same in so far the Empire in P&B worshiped the Invincible Sun (like the Western Empire and Scheria here, Scheria being the country of our heroes and either former province of the Western Empire or never conquered depending on whom you listen to) while here the Eastern Empire (former conqueror and now ally of of our heroes' opponents, the Permians) to which the allusions are made worships the Fire God (s?)

But this is one of author's trademarks, describing a deep but mutable history depending on who is writing it...

Anyway back to the book and the story goes like this (as I do not have yet an e-version, I cannot c/p quotes but the novel is full of quotable lines and i hope to have some for the full review later in the year):

- two former border provinces of the Western and Eastern Empires left independent more or less as detritus after the Empires long war a few hundred years ago, manage to get into a war of their own for the possession of a barren border land-strip that is rumored to contain huge mineral deposits

More populous Scheria and richer Permia go at it for a long time - some four decades, Scheria with conscript manpower, Permia mostly with Imperial and barbarian mercenaries, "the Blue Skins" and the Aram Chantat respectively, in addition to their less numerous conscripts - but ultimately they both run out of money and people and the military aristocracy in both countries which ran the war falls from power and becomes mostly bankrupt, while the Bank in Scheria and the mine owners in Permia have an uneasy seven year truce going at the beginning of the novel in 614 AUC.

However the last and most notable feat of war, the total flooding and submerging under water of a major Permian city, by the best general of the war (and some say, best such in centuries), Scherian general Carnufex known forever as "The Irrigator" sort of gave Scheria the "moral win" though as mentioned both countries are almost bankrupt as the treaty negotiations go nowhere fast so the riches of the DMZ cannot be exploited to prop both economies.

Adding some recent instability in the Permian economy as their mainstay, silver mining is getting competition in the Empire and the plotting of the still standing not bankrupt members of the aristocracy like Carnufex (retired with honors but privately seething at the current Bank run government of Scheria) and the situation is quite unstable, when a new factor that can make or break it appears, namely a Scherian fencing team invited to visit fencing-mad Permia and give three exhibit games.

And in the first few pages we get to meet the mostly unlikely members of the team:

Suidas Deutzel (mid 30's), fencing champion of Scheria, habitual drunk with an expensive actress girlfriend and numerous creditors to satisfy from the winnings game to game, former war hero or war criminal depending on who tells it, who needs the money the Scherian government offers him for a trip to Permia; of course as he is not that stable there is a clear possibility he may run amok and restart the war single handed

Iseutz Bringas (early 20's) - the one girl on the team, she is tall and not that polished, a former junior ladies champion from a middle management bank family, who accepts the highly risky tour as alternative to a political marriage

Giraut Byrennius (early 20's) - perennial student from an upper class family, highly skilled amateur fencer who prefers bedding upper class university girls to pretty much anything else including work and study, until his latest "conquest" leads him into big trouble, so it is the gallows or Permia...

Addo (Adulescentulos) Carnufex (24), youngest son of the general (out of 4, three surviving, one dead in the war), good fencer as all the nobility, pacifist, chess master, highly intelligent and attractive who worships his father who in turn seems to regard him with contempt for his pacifist views

And then we have the team manager/coach, 51 year old wool merchant Phrantzes, former 3 time fencing champion of Scheria (record at the time), former supply major under Carnufex in the war, recently and somewhat scandalously married to a 37 year old lady of foreign and unseemly origins (former prostitute etc) who is "convinced" to lead the team despite being manifestly unsuited and unwilling

Supervising them, political officer Timizces, anonymous looking and always disappearing when bad things are ready to happen and the s**t starts looking like hitting the fan.

And of course there are the secrets, personal and political, the power players, real and pretend, the machinations and the intrigue.

High stakes indeed and unclear what chance at survival our five unlikely heroes have...

Coming back now to a discussion of themes and characters, for people familiar with the author's work, Suidas is not unlike the heroes of The Company, Addo not unlike Gignomai, Iseutz not unlike the heroine with the same name in the Fencer trilogy though with less baggage, while Giraut and Phrantzes are the seemingly expendable nobodies that appear in various places (including for example Ziani in the Engineer trilogy); what is the right thing to do, can the honorable thing be wrong and the dishonorable thing be right, the ambiguity of morality as dictated by circumstances etc etc - among the very numerous super touches of the book there is a game the heroes play when each names a thing they are sure they would not do under any circumstances and the cynical Suidas creates scenarios under which they agree they actually would do it -, all the familiar themes as mentioned combined with great prose and world building.

Outstanding and I would say this is probably the best KJ Parker novel so far and definitely will be a huge favorite mine (for now of course it is #1 of 2012 but there is IM Banks and the Culture coming soon...) alongside The Hammer, The Scavenger trilogy and Purple and Black which so far are my personal favorites from the author's work

Here is the full rv link (done together with Mihir):
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