Duty, morality, guns and engineering
It’s paradoxical to describe KJ Parker’s books as fantasy. Aside from the non-Earth setting (here and elsewhere, a 16 th century-ish analogue of Rome), they’re as real as real can be. Do you like Jules Verne, with his informative descriptions of telegraphy and ballooning? Then you’ll like Parker’s detailed engineering passages, although these books are 21 st -century terse in their edification, not 19 th -century prolix. Also realistic are the characters, whose mental make-ups give us no goodies or baddies; instead we get the tricky journeys of very real people doing very good and very bad things.
In this standalone story (the third Parker’s done recently), Gignomai met’Oc lives with his exiled noble family in a distant land that hosts a scrappy colony, with whom the met’Ocs coexist uneasily. Until something terrible occurs, and Gignomai sets in motion a fiendish plan. To say more than that would give the game away, but let’s say that this fantasy is less about wizards (of which there are none) and more about morality, family and notions of justice and duty.
The Hammer is mildly frustrating, since Parker refuses to judge the characters, but in a good way. To use an overused cliché: it’ll make you think. It’s not perfect. Those readers who’ve been put off by Parker’s over-engineered plots and slightly cold style will find the same here, and the realism of the detail runs out when it comes to the big picture (there’s no way such a large and potentially rich land would be left virtually untouched by so avaricious a society – come on!). It is also perhaps a little parochial, but then that’s a strength also, for the small size of the stage makes the enormity of Gignomai’s actions all the more powerful.