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Colours in the Steel (Fencer Trilogy #1)
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Colours in the Steel

(Fencer Trilogy #1)

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  1,471 ratings  ·  91 reviews

An epic novel of blood, betrayal, and intrigue. . .

Perimadeia is the famed Triple City and the mercantile capital of the known world. Behind its allegedly impregnable walls, everything is available-including information that will allow its enemies to plan one of the most devastating sieges of all time.

The man called upon to defend Perimadeia i
Kindle Edition, 503 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Orbit (first published June 4th 1998)
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3.76  · 
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 ·  1,471 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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Sep 28, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, epic-fantasy
In the city-state of Perimadeia, "the sword of justice" is more than just an expression, and it’s the lawyer who does the fighting. All commercial law is decided in trial by combat to the death. While this may make court cases rather more exciting, it does mean that careers in the law tend to terminate rather abruptly. Bardas Loredan, fencer-at-law, has managed to make a go of his profession for over a dozen years. Between his time as a soldier terrorizing the “savage” clansmen around the city a ...more
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In a way, this could be considered the most 'standard' of KJ Parker's books, especially if publishers insist on his/her books being categorized as Fantasy. It's the only Parker novel (thus far) that has something which could be considered magic, even though calling it such is a sort of running joke throughout. It has the closest thing I could call a "hero of the story" to any other Parker book I've read. The plot is actually fairly straightforward compared to other Parker novels too, no grand me ...more
Bill Khaemba
EXCEPTIONAL!!! I had so much fun with this fantasy book :) I loved it!!!!

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Nov 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Such a frustrating story, because you want both sides to win, and you know they can't. And yet so very enjoyable.

It's interesting, I've basically read Parker's 3 trilogies in reverse order of when they were published, and there are so many themes in this book that s/he apparently liked so much that she wanted to explore them at much greater length in the others. (the biggest one being, of course, the effects of more sophisticated technology on medieval-ish societies, but also: blacksmithing, sw
Apr 29, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unbelievably good; the tale of the Loredan family unfolds slowly with twists and turns galore; similar in style and prefiguring the Engineer series in content to some extent, I think I liked this one the most of all KJ Parker novels so far and that's a tall order since I absolutely loved the Engineer 1/2 and the Scavenger 1/2 novels als.

Not for everyone with its dry humor and matter of fact tone, the antithesis of pathos in sff, this novel solidifies the place of KJ Parker as my top fantasy auth
Jeremy Jackson
Dec 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was the pseudonymous Parker's first novel in his style; perhaps because I fell in love with his later work, I wasn't able to devour this one with as much relish. All his definitive themes are here, though, just under the surface, almost exploratory: morality, necessity, love, ambiguity.

Untempered KJ Parker, but the material is as fine as ever.
Erin Fitzgerald
Aug 10, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is an ugly series through and through. If you want something positive and uplifting, don't. If you want something that shows the good through evil, don't. If you want something that will finally pull through and relieve you of all the mire and filth it's dragged you through, don't.

Nothing. Happy. Happens. If you like books where it's utterly hopeless from start to finish, where there is a not a breath of fresh air in all the squalid characters and lands around you, where you are not given a
Petra Eriksson
Jan 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, favorites
A book I stopped reading after only a chapter for some reason, perhaps becuase Bardas Loredan seemed like such a miserable fellow but I'm glad I picked it up again for the story was great, with charcters who was amazingly realistic with their flaws and thoughts and a very interesting magic world. I liked the fact that we got to take part of both the attacking and the defensive side so deeply, and the fact that it made the book even more realistic for there is no enemy side here, no real good or ...more
Sep 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book felt clean and heartfelt to me. It was so much fun. Getting to know Bardas Loredan and the people of his world was a joy, made better by getting to know the characters through the lense of different POVs. Very well done.
Apr 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: sf-fantasy
I'm not much of a fan of dark humor, so while I appreciated this for its decent world building and twisted but often appealing characters--and, once they got under way, battles--I don't feel any need to read the sequels.

Memorable line: "You look as if you died a week ago and they gave you to the apprentice embalmer to practise on."
Derelict Space Sheep
Jan 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: k-j-parker

The original K J Parker novel, introducing all those elements—the detailed world building and practical intricacies, the tragedy-driven plots, hubris-plagued protagonists and gallows humour—that would prove characteristic of her/his work. Fencer barristers make for the most apt of jumping-off points.


The Goodreads algorithm moves in mysterious ways.

Fantasy Review Barn

I believe it was George Carlin that said the key to any joke is wherein lay the Colours in the Steel exaggeration. Most of the set up must ring true or the specific absurdity that makes everything funny won’t have the impact. In many ways I believe fantasy fiction works the same way. It is okay by me if there are a few items that stretch the limits of credibility; it isn’t fantasy without something extraordinary going on. But even with these specific exaggerations I must belie
Jul 11, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
K.J. Parker has a very interesting writing style, which I found both entertaining and frustrating in turns. It's a style full of contradictions, focused on the intense realism of certain details, but built on blatantly unrealistic premises, given to engaging, compelling characters, but with a tendency to zip right past the most powerful moments of their stories without a second glance. The book has a certain wry humor, a sardonic tone which is very pleasing, but it seems incapable of taking anyt ...more
Nov 25, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In 1998, Parker's first novel Colours in the steel was published in Dutsch. 15 years and some 18 novels later, remains the only novel by Parker to be released in the dutschspeaking market. Why? Why the f* publish the first part of a trilogy and not the rest? Is it that exceptionally horrible? I've decided to give this book a second read, just to find out what's so wrong about it. I've checked the negative reviews to see what bugged people and i’m gonna try and pay extra attention to it.

Well, let
Nick Smith
Aug 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I can see why some people marked this down for its engineering descriptions, and the author has apologised for them later in interview, but I love them. I love to know how things work and Mr(s?) Parker allows me to really understand medieval siege warfare - both the Physics and the nitty gritty limb-tearing realism.

First off, like all of Parker's books to date, this is not your normal magic and dragon-packed dark lord plot, in Parker's words his (or her) books are history as it should have been.
Dec 19, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was originally very difficult to get through. The author's life has been steeped in law, fencing, woodwork, and metalwork, so every proceeding page has the minute details of the components, process, and reasoning behind every war item, from trebuchet to sword, and every nuance of the fencing styles. I did not understand this for a grand majority of the book, until I got the last hundred pages. Every fencing maneuver, though often hard to understand given the jargon, was perfectly detailed t ...more
Mar 22, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
I'm a pretty big fan of K.J. Parker, but had never gotten around to reading the author's debut novel, Colours in the Steel. It's a pretty decent fantasy, though it does have some of the weaknesses of other debut novels. The plot is a little light, like the story doesn't quite know where it's going. Parker also hasn't quite fleshed out their style yet either. On the other hand, the author's wry sense of humor is definitely present, as is the various commentary on human nature. It's quite a decent ...more
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like Parker's style - very different to most of what I read. it seems like it should be almost boring, slightly dry, little magic and that is always nebulous and not set in stone, but the writing is so good that I end up loving all of that.the premise of this book was intersting - law disputes settled by combat, but the story moves away from that fairly quickly and becomes about an attempted seige of a giant city, and shows both sides of the war in very realistic and sympathetic views. ...more
Long and boring for the most part. I liked the fencing bits, the fencing philosophy bits, and the interplay between some of the characters. Other characters I just wanted to kill off as soon as possible. I did like the ending, how the story unfolded to explain who the mysterious girl was and why she wanted to kill the person who'd killed her uncle.
Jun 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
So begins my journey into the world of K.J. Parker. Introduced to Tom Holt's alternate persona via "Savages", I immediately gravitated toward his sharp wit, philosophical questioning, and writing structures. Now, I've taken it upon myself to read and review each and every piece K.J. Parker's bibliography (presumably in chronological order, but time will tell if I stick to that).

"Colours in the Steel" is not Parker's most popular book, not by a long shot. Many of the arguments made against it is
Oswego Public Library District
In the city-state Perimadeia, justice is decided by a sword, quite literally. During trial, lawyers fight to the death to reach a verdict for their clients. Bardas Loredan is one such fencer-at-law. Despite his world-weariness and melancholic nature, he has managed to survive his occupation for a dozen years. But when he kills a young woman’s uncle, she decides to put a curse on him. Meanwhile, Temrai, a young clansman, remembers Bardas quite well from his bloody childhood. He decides that not e ...more
Carl Phillips
I have been agonizing over my score for this book, and my review, for over a week. In may ways this is a great book - I like older, more experienced leads (the uppity youth trope grates these days) and so Bardas Loredan is a great POV and one who I really engaged with. I like the setting as well, there is a delightful touch of Gormenghast about the city in their single minded focus on commerce and their reluctance to focus on anything outside of their city.

I liked the antagonist as well, and hi
Oct 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First in a trilogy, akin to the author's other series in tone and feel: cynical, plenty of black/gallows humor, and a conflict between sides that are both reasonably sympathetic. (There's one villain, but he's not a primary character.) As elsewhere, there's an intense focus on engineering and manufacturing; if you want to learn about the mechanics of medieval warfare, look no further. The premise (a prosperous city is under siege by impoverished nomadic plainspeople) doesn't seem interesting, bu ...more
Jeremy German
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was led to believe that this book was super technical, to me it wasn't really. It does go into some detail about how things work than other books might, but not to a point I would consider overdone.

I expected it to be denser than it actually was. What I got was a fairly fun fantasy novel with some interesting characters that turn out to be pretty damn likable even though I don't feel like a ton of time was spent building them.

Suspension of disbelief is required from the first page (the syste
Apr 01, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I struggled to decide between 2 or 3 stars, opting for the later simply because of how engaging I found the main character, Bardas Loredan, & his profession to be. The rest of the novel though - Temrai and his revenge crusade, And Alexius and “the Principle” are simply an annoyance, each in their own ways, wearing me down as the book progressed. So that it was merely the time I had already invested in reading the book that brought me to actually finishing it. Needless to say I won’t be going ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Difficult to review.Can only say this is one of my preferred authors.It is f tasty.An imagined world but very unconventional.Iwas caught as it was difficult to predict where it was going.Twisting but never boring.WhenI found out Parker was also Tom Holt,I tried aTom Holt book.Completly different.Plot,style voice.Clever writer but KJParker is my much preferred guise.Strange,less well known and less popular ,I think,thanHolt who has a large,enthusiastic following.
In the city-state Perimadeia, justice is decided by a sword, quite literally. During trial, lawyers fight to the death to reach a verdict for their clients. Bardas Loredan is one such fencer-at-law. Despite his world-weariness and melancholic nature, he has managed to survive his occupation for a dozen years. But when he kills a young woman’s uncle, she decides to put a curse on him. Meanwhile, Temrai, a young clansmen, remembers Bardas quite well from his bloody childhood. He decides that not e ...more
andy hill
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Its midnight. I came to bed at 8 to read a bit before an early night, early start tomorrow. But this book wouldn't let me sleep til I finished it.
I'll have to start book 2 tomorrow.
This is epic storytelling with so much left unexplained & plenty of surprises I am sure.
Thomas Stacey
Aug 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Pleasantly surprised by this one. Humorous, cynical and gritty, much in the same vein as Joe Abercrombie. Bardas Loredan is a great character worth the price of admission alone. Not sure where this series is going to go from here, but I’m eager to find out.
HeJin Kim
It is an interesting story, and a different flavour of fantasy than the usual. the writing is a bit drawn out and stale at points, so somethings requires a bit of a push to make it through a few slow parts
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K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt.

According to the biographical notes in some of Parker's books, Parker has previously worked in law, journalism, and numismatics, and now writes and makes things out of wood and metal. It is also claimed that Parker is married to a solicitor and now lives in southern England. According to an autobiographical note, Parker was raised in rural Vermont, a lifest

Other books in the series

Fencer Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Belly of the Bow (Fencer Trilogy, #2)
  • The Proof House (Fencer Trilogy, #3)
“All his life he'd dealt in honour and service, the way a furrier deals in furs or a vintner in wine. On his lips the terms had had specialised political meanings, and he'd long since stopped thinking about what the words stood for in the world at large. Now, unfortunately a little bit too late, he'd been granted a little gleam of insight; service is what makes you stand in the line when nobody would try and stop you if you ran away, and honour is what's left when every other conceivable reason for staying there has long since evaporated.” 1 likes
“I’m starting to get the enemy and the auditors muddled up in my mind. I’m terrified of both of them, but the auditors know where I live.” 1 likes
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