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Evil for Evil: The Engineer Trilogy, Book Two review

Vengeance writ large as the magic-free fantasy series continues…

Author: KJ Parker

Publisher: Orbit

599 pages • £12.99

ISBN: 1-84149-277-9

Rating:

Is there anything worth saving about
traditional fantasy? With Christopher
Paolini’s sickly Eragon (a fantasy seemingly
written on the assumption that you can’t go
wrong by chucking every sword-and-sorcery
cliché into the mix) made into a big-budget
flick, it’s a question that seems pertinent.
Not for the first time, SFX finds itself asking:
wouldn’t it be better just to kill the dragon?

That’s certainly what KJ Parker has done
with the Engineer Trilogy, imagining instead
a world where a society in the early stages
of industrialisation clashes with its medieval
neighbours. There’s not even any magic,
except the Brunel-style magic intrinsic in
the clever construction of machines.

And yet, as with the first novel in the
trilogy, this a book that utilises many of
fantasy’s clichés and refreshes them simply
by skewing them. In particular, this is a
novel that delights in court intrigues and, at
a feel-the-thickness-sir 599 pages, has
ample space to explore nuances of character.

All of which could be so much dull, neomedieval
wibbling if it weren’t for Parker’s
knack of creating conflicted characters such
as Zianti Vaatzes, an engineer outcast from
the Mezentine living reluctantly among his
agrarian neighbours. Having brought down
one country at the cost of thousands of lives,
Vaatzes now treats its neighbour as a
plaything in an intricate vengeance scheme.
This theme of cross-cultural meetings is
amplified elsewhere as, for instance, ruler
Duke Valens seeks an alliance with his
neighbours, the nomadic Cure Hardy.

It’s the play between these cultures that
drives much of the plot and enables Parker
to explore both the weaknesses of the
apparently invincible Mezentine and the
unexpected sophistication of the Cure Hardy
(any contemporary resonances are,
presumably, intended...).

Just as compelling as its predecessor, Evil
For Evil confirms Parker as one of fantasy’s
premier voices, a writer subtly subverting
the genre by playing to some its greatest
strengths. Impressive.

Jonathan Wright

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