HOW TO RULE AN EMPIRE AND GET AWAY WITH IT by K. J. Parker – Book Review
This is the history of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through.
The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, it turns out that people enjoy the theatre just as much when there are big rocks falling out of the sky.
But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the empire needs him – or someone who looks a lot like him – for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him.
In this follow up to the acclaimed Sixteen Ways to Defend a City K.J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes and he might even get away with it.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a City was one of my favourite books of 2019. It was hilarious, clever and the main character had a completely unique voice. How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It is a brilliant sequel set 15 to 20 years later where our original protagonist has already been forgotten about and replaced in the people’s minds by his burly and heroic body guard Lysimachus, a far more suited and palatable saviour for the commoners to worship and for the politicians to control than a simple engineer.
Notker is a struggling performer, a man of many talents and few scruples, whose life and personal relationships all revolve around the performing arts. As in The Man in the Iron Mask and many classic tales of old, Notker, a rather average man, is called upon to perform the old switcheroo when Lysimachus is squashed by a trebuchet-flung boulder. His skills as an impressionist and reasonable likeness make him the only choice and his ability to improvise, his expertise in the craft of theatre and his willingness to do anything to keep his head attached to his neck make him the perfect one. He’s both a realist and a magician.
“Me, I don’t care about the bad guys, so long as they keep the hell away from me. When they get too close, in my face, I tell them lies and run away. That means I’ll never be a hero, but I don’t mind that. I do character parts and impersonations”.
I loved the writing style of the entire book. It’s quite Shakespearean in terms of there being a play within a play (sometimes within another play), the swapping and assumption of multiple identities and an everyday person rising to a place of power. It’s also a very different sounding voice to any other fantasy books I’ve read. The humour is so unbelievably dry and it’s hard not to chuckle constantly. I have no idea how Parker manages to manifest these characters that, at first, seem very average in life but turn out to be almost genius in the chosen field. He also breaks down the world of politics wonderfully, throwing back the curtain to reveal the incompetence of those in charge, the lies that they live and die for and the sudden swings in power between those who have worked their whole life for it and those that stumble upon it. It’s easy to see the parallels between the utter shiteness of what we see everyday in the real world and what’s put in front of us in the pages of this book.
As you can probably tell I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish. Parker has created a world full of wit, ingenuity, unlikely tactics and reluctant heroes and there is nothing else quite like it. If this series is a play this is absolutely the second act with very little going the way I imagined, a protagonist who is constantly on the verge of being stabbed in the back and an overall feeling of impending doom. If you’re after something totally different from the rest of your TBR pile I highly recommend How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It.
A huge thanks to Angela Man and Orbit Books for providing me a physical copy of the ARC. I don’t enjoy using an e-reader and the pandemic has me buying a lot of books but there is nothing quite like surprise book mail. I immediately set my sights on getting this read as soon as possible in an effort to get my review done in time for release date and it proved to be no problem at all because I couldn’t put it down.