The Two of Swords: Part Fifteen

June 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords15The Two of Swords: Part Fifteen by K.J. Parker

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This installment of The Two of Swords — the last one to become available — was published in April 2016. According to Amazon, the next installment won’t be available until June of this year. That’s over one whole year that’s passed since Parker last released a chapter of this story. I can’t imagine waiting that long for it; heck, I’m impatient to wait the four months until then! The good news is Parker at least brought the story to a good stopping point before taking that hiatus.

For one, we finally learn the ultimate goal of the Lodge. I’m not going to tell you what that is, but rest assured, we do get an answer. (Maybe. Lord knows, Parker hasn’t been playing us completely straight this whole time, so who’s to say he’s not throwing us another red herring?) We also get a few new characters, revisit some we’ve seen before, and start to see how all these various plot points are coming together. As it is, if Parker had to break the story at a point before taking some time away from the story, he picked the right place for it.

There are actually two chapters to this installment, which was odd, but makes sense, since the second one was only about twelve pages long. It was weird seeing them break within the same ebook, but I understand once this is complete, it will be published as a single volume, so if nothing else, this setup gives us a taste of that. Plus, this isn’t the first time Parker has put two chapters in one installment; it’s just the other one was only three extra pages.

So, I’m kinda bummed that it’s over, but I’m looking forward to what remains. Part Fifteen wraps up some of the loose ends, but we still have a lot of frays that need mending. As good as this first half (?) has been, the second half should be mighty impressive.

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The Two of Swords: Part Fourteen

June 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords14The Two of Swords: Part Fourteen by K.J. Parker

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It seems a little late in the story to be bringing in new characters, but Parker does exactly that in Part Fourteen. Chanso, the archer who shot Corason in the last chapter, becomes our point-of-view character, through which we get to see the devastation of war (again), along with some insight into the Lodge. The Lodge has been presented to us as a well-meaning, duplicitous-yet-honorable group that (maybe?) wants what’s best for everyone at the end. The problem is that the ends justify the means, as we see in this installment.

As the story began, I had reservations, since we were dropped into a new group of people, and had to learn about them for most of the chapter. It seemed like a bad time to be bringing in new characters, since the main story felt like it was nearing a pivotal moment, but of course I should have trusted Parker. This chapter, like the Lodge’s actions, was a means to the end, which was to give us further insight into the war and its history. Parker does a great job of showing us complex events through the eyes of people who have only a tenuous grasp of the larger picture, and Chanso is another of those characters.

The good news is the chapters are getting longer again, so it feels like we’re making progress; the bad news is there’s a lot of new exposition to wade through to get to that progress. Whenever I start to question the relevance of where Parker’s taking us, I try to remember that I’ve trusted him this far, and that my trust hasn’t been misplaced. I need to keep moving forward, knowing that Parker is going to give us what we want, even if it’s going to be a little longer getting it than we would like.

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The Two of Swords: Part Thirteen

June 6, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords13The Two of Swords: Part Thirteen by K.J. Parker

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True to form, Part Thirteen picks up immediately after the end of Part Twelve, as Corason rides out of town. Immediately, Corason picks up someone trailing him, who he ultimately learns is Eudaemonia Frontizoriastes. She wears a veil, which put me in mind of Lysao, from Part Eight, but it turns out she’s someone different. She’s from the East, where women can be ordained as agents, so maybe that gives us an additional clue regarding Lysao? Possibly. It’s Parker, so we’ll have to guess until we know for sure.

This is a short chapter (24 pages!), but that’s probably for the best. Corason is annoying, and while Eudaemonia is more interesting, their banter is a little tiresome. What redeems the chapter is what we learn about the war. Something curious is going on, which could mean that Forza is still alive (no one seems to believe he is, but Parker hasn’t shown us a body yet, either), or it could mean something else. What that something else could be, though, is still a mystery. Maybe. Parker writes in such a way that he doesn’t give you all the answers explicitly, though all the answers are in the story. I’m not paying close enough attention to get it all.

I’ve seen people complain about the price of each chapter, and with Part Thirteen, I can begin to understand it. I mean, if this book runs 23 chapters, I will have paid $22.77, which is still cheaper than a lot of hardcover books, but to pay the same price for 24 pages when the other chapters run 50-70 pages, I can sort of understand it. Of course, this far along, I’ll keep paying for them as they release them. I can’t deny that it works as a marketing ploy.

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The Two of Swords: Part Twelve

June 5, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords12The Two of Swords: Part Twelve by K.J. Parker

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So, we get another look into the Musen/Axeo relationship, though it doesn’t start off that way. These guys aren’t my favorite characters in the series, so it’s hard to muster up a lot of interest for them, though the story (such as it is) keeps me interested. The chapters now seem more about individual adventures, which is good for the chapters, but less for the overall story. It seems like it’s ticking along slowly, though the more we see of the other characters in the story, the more we learn of the Lodge and its machinations.

As usual, Parker’s style and narrative carries the chapter, as the banter between Musen and Axeo is sharp and witty. We see the relationship from Musen’s viewpoint this time, which is nice, since he’s such a quiet character. We also learn more about his loyalties, to the Lodge and to other interests, which is a nice aside, since Musen has come across as such a selfish, self-interested character thus far. That could be why he’s not one of my favorite characters, but with what we learn here, he becomes a little more sympathetic.

Part Twelve is a bit lackluster, but it keeps the larger story moving along enough to keep my interest. I’m winding down to the last of the available chapters. I feel like I should start pacing myself, but it’s hard, when the end (for now, at least) is in sight. It looks like Part Sixteen won’t be available until June, so I’ll have plenty of time to let the story settle before picking it back up again.

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The Two of Swords: Part Eleven

June 2, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords11The Two of Swords: Part Eleven by K.J. Parker

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According to my notes, I’ve read 650 pages of The Two of Swords. That seems a bit high, considering I’m not even halfway through the entire series, based on the 23 parts that are currently available for purchase or pre-order. Then again, maybe this is Parker’s version of A Song of Ice and Fire.

(I’m fine with that, by the way. As much as I like Martin’s epic, it takes itself so seriously that it could use a nice foil like The Two of Swords. Parker’s story is just as serious, behind the scenes, but it’s awfully fun reading his style over his own kind of epic tale. It’s almost like it’s poking fun at the genre while being an homage at the same time.)

In Part Eleven, we return to Axeo, Oida’s brother (is it a return? I get the feeling we’ve already met Axeo, but I can’t recall. It’s times like these I wish the series had its own Wiki so I could keep up with this stuff), and even watch the story pick up from the moment Part Ten ended, when Frontizo was preparing to write a letter to Axeo. Oida’s brother is paired with Musen, the thief who featured in parts one and two, among other chapters, and the two of them are on a mission to retrieve something for the Lodge. The two men can only barely tolerate one another, so much of the story involves their banter, though “banter” is a generous term when Axeo is pretty much the only one carrying on the conversation here.

As the story progresses, it’s becoming clearer that the Lodge is a major force in Parker’s world, and it makes me wonder if, by the end of the story, we’re going to realize that everyone in this world is a Craftsman. The story has also referenced Saloninus, the genius who featured in both Blue and Gold and The Devil You Know, so I now know for sure that this book is in the same world as Parker’s other novels, and I wonder if the Lodge has been referenced in those books. It makes me regret not reading this series in order of Parker’s other works, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about it now.

(Also, it’s somewhat confusing to read this series while also reading Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence. There are Craftsmen in both, and I keep having to make a mental note to shift gears as I settle into one story or the other.)

The endings of the chapters are becoming more and more cliffhangers, which could be Parker trying to keep us more interested in reading the next installment of the novel, but now that the story is really underway, and we’re seeing the intricacy of the characters and the plot, it might just be that this is the best way to tell the story. Moving from one chapter to the next as I’m able to do now is helpful, but this won’t always be the case. Maybe I’ll feel differently once I have to take a seat on the waiting train, too.

I didn’t like this chapter as much as the others, since it didn’t reveal much more of the plot or the characters. There’s a good chance that it will have more relevance in later chapters, but I told myself I was going to rate these installments on their own, or at least in context of everything that preceded them. I trust Parker to keep the story interesting, but as a standalone adventure, this one lacked much of what the others had.

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The Two of Swords: Part Eight

May 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords8The Two of Swords: Part Eight by K.J. Parker

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Maybe I’m a little slow, but the story is starting to become clear to me. That is, it’s becoming as clear as a story about war, subterfuge, espionage, and secret societies can be. Maybe a better way to put it is my eyes are more open as to what’s really happening. I should have known that Parker wasn’t going to tell a standard story of war with The Two of Swords; I think my problem with not seeing it sooner as I’ve only read his novellas, where that moment comes a little faster.

For the record, in the Tarot set that Parker uses in his story (and I’m afraid I don’t know enough about real Tarot decks to know if it’s a real Tarot deck he’s using as inspiration, or if he created his own) twos are the wild cards. Additionally, Swords isn’t a suit in a standard deck; those are from older decks. Again, I might be slow, and this may have been obvious in earlier parts of the story, but I’m like Musen here where I’m not paying enough attention to catch the inconsistencies.

I mentioned in my review of Part Seven that the story seemed to be about something other than war, but I was wrong. The story is still about war, but it’s not about a war being fought on the fields. I mean, yes, it is, but the real story is behind all of that. This becomes clear at the end of this part, where Parker shines light on the economic effect of and on war, where one foolhardy decision can affect the outcome of future battles. The trick, like in Chess, is to force someone into a position where they have to make that foolhardy decision.

For the record, and for my own future purposes, here are the point-of-view characters and how they relate to the Tarot:

  • Teucer, from Part One, is the Crown Prince.
  • Musen, from Part Two, is the Thief.
  • Telamon, from Part Three, is Poverty.
  • Daxen, from Part Four, is Virtue.
  • Forza, from Part Five, is the Two of Spears.
  • Senza, from Part Six, is the Two of Arrows.
  • Glauca, from Part Seven, is the Scholar.
  • Pleda, from Part Eight, is … ?
  • Lysao, from … Part Nine? … is the Cherry Tree.
  • The Ace of Swords has been announced, but remains a mystery.

The real question, of course, is: Who is the Two of Swords? Though I suppose that’s why we’re reading this novel.

This entire series is showing its brilliance. It just takes a little while to get there, thanks to the puzzle-like nature of the plot.

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The Two of Swords: Part Six

May 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords6The Two of Swords: Part Six

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Senza Belot takes the stage to tell part of his story, following his brother Forza’s chapter. We learn more about what happened at the end of the battle in Part Five, but not so much as to get all the answers. The real question here is: Is Forza dead? If so, it could have a major impact on events; if not … well, that could also have a major impact on events. It’s important to how Senza would proceed, if he were or were not dead.

It’s cool to start seeing all the different parts begin to intersect. Teucer showed up in the Part Five, and Telamon keeps popping up, as well as Oida. We begin to see why the latter two characters keep making appearances, which raises additional questions. Hell, at this point in the story, it seems like all we have is questions. This isn’t a problem, since the story is starting to gather its legs beneath itself, ready for the jump. Right now, it keeps hinting at that jump.

One of the things I’ve liked about Parker’s books (aside from the wry style (and the endearing anti-heroes (and the borderline irreverence (it’s sort of hard to find something not to like)))) is his plots, which sneak up on you. I’m seeing evidence of one of those taking shape, which just makes me giddy. It makes me think that the story about the war is just a red herring, or else the major factions in the war are the red herrings. There’s a crimson fish in here somewhere, I guess is what I’m saying.

It took me until Part Five to see the story in The Two of Swords, and I’m pretty sure I’m hooked now. I was going to read them, regardless, but even if I hadn’t had the faith in Parker to stick it out, by now I’d be reading just for the story. The parts are getting shorter, which on the one hand is good, since I can breeze through the remaining chapters, but on the other hand, I’m just going to catch up with the end of the published parts that much sooner. I’m not sure I have it in me to pace myself to that point.

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The Two of Swords: Part Five

May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords5The Two of Swords: Part Five by K.J. Parker

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This. This is what I’ve come to expect from Parker. It has good characters, human drama, a lot of detail, and a brisk pace. Yes, yes, there’s also the sardonic style and the irreverence, which we’ve seen in all of the parts up to this one, but Part Five finally got around to showing me that Parker is on form with this series.

Remarkably, this is the shortest of all parts thus far, but there’s a lot packed in here, thanks in part to shifting the point of view to Forza, one of the Belot brothers who are at war with each other. There’s a little bit of battle here, but what really takes the focus of the story is the relationship between Forza and Raico, his wife. Forza is known for being the greatest general who ever lived, but as we see behind the scenes, Raico might even be better than he is. I like that Parker populates his stories with women who are just as — usually more than — capable as his male characters. It’s not that it’s unusual to find that in modern fantasy stories, but I think it’s significant when male writers include them.

One word of caution, though: Before reading this entry in the series, make sure you have Part Six on hand. I get the feeling you’re going to want to read it right away after finishing Part Five.

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The Two of Swords: Part Four

May 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords4The Two of Swords: Part Four by K.J. Parker

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We shift from the outskirts of the war directly into it with Part Four of The Two of Swords, where Daxin, the Grand Logothete to the Queen of Blemya, winds up in the military as a favor to the Queen, who is an old friend of Daxin’s. The thing is, what we see of the war is traveling. The army travels from Blemya to the desert, from the desert to an outpost, from the outpost to another city, and so on, all while under the threat of the Mavida, the nomadic tribes that live in the desert. There’s not even much battle that takes place here.

The thing is, stuff still happens, even if there’s not a lot of action in the novella. It focuses on Daxin and his inexperience, despite his role, and reveals much about the state of the war and how pointless it feels. Parker continues with his cynical style, showing what happens when the inept wind up in charge, possibly making a comment on war is usually run by the inept. Regardless, the story has a strange compulsion about it, despite it being so light on action.

Part Four is the best of the series so far, which is a surprise. It could be that enough of the backstory is finally laid down for me to get a better understanding of what’s happening, or it could be that this would be the point in a standard novel where the story begins to take shape. Either way, I’m committed, and I’m eager to see who the next point-of-view character will be.

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The Two of Swords: Part Three

May 9, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords3The Two of Swords: Part Three by K.J. Parker

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War! What is it good for? (Absolutely nothing!) Say it again! Well, aside from the jobs and the profits and the politics, that is. For people who are running countries, war is big business.

Continuing the theme of telling the story of war as it affects different people, Parker writes Part Three from the perspective of a spy. Telamon, a priestess who does undercover work for her country, featured in Part Two as a secondary character, and moves into the spotlight with this novella. It starts out briskly and violently (a la Parker, I suppose), as she murders someone to make room on the last ship out of Belosia so she can escape the city before it’s sacked.

From there, she returns home, but just as she settles in to have some time off, another assignment comes up, and she finds herself accompanying Oida, a musician, to another region to deliver a copy of a new symphony. Of course, the trip is to cover up her real mission, but when she nears the end of it, she begins to question what the mission actually was.

Parker’s in form here, and the larger story begins to take shape with Part Three. I still feel like we’re only getting a glimpse of that larger story, like we’re identifying shapes from their shadows, but as we continue circling the war, we get more detail about what’s happening. I like this style of storytelling, so I’m enjoying how Parker is approaching the story. I mean, I’d better, right? As of today, the series is going to be at least twenty-three parts.

I have a long way to go, but I look forward to watching Parker work. It’s also fun to read the current novella and try to guess who’s going to be the featured character for the next one. Plus, it’s a device that keeps you reading; it’s too easy to finish one part and jump right into the next one to see if you’re right.

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