Disclosure: The reviewer received a review copy of this book via Netgalley

Review: Mightier than the Sword by K.J. ParkerMightier than the Sword by K.J. Parker
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy, Epic Fantasy
Release: 2017
Type: Novella
Source: Netgalley
four-half-stars

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This was my first K. J. Parker/Tom Holt book. It was a great introduction!

The story is presented as a rare document from a fictional ancient empire. The narrator, an unnamed Imperial Legate and nephew of the empress and emperor, is sent out on a mission to defend monasteries from attacks by raiders. Our narrator is highly literate and competent, but not a dazzling genius. He is not shy about attributing his success to knowledge gained from books. The recurring theme of preserving knowledge in the form of writing figures heavily in the story.

The narrator demonstrates that he is much more thoughtful than those close to him give him credit for. His writing shows his full knowledge of the workings of the empire and a fair amount of empathy for the people in it. Though he is aware of his high station and privilege, the narrator presents his story without embellishment or pretension.

It is amazing how much context is fit into such a short book. Parker’s novella manages to pack three dimensional characters and a thrilling story into only 134 pages.

What Makes it Epic Grit:

  • Adventure and Wonder: An official from a long-lost empire is sent out to defend remote monasteries from unknown raiders. Cue the soaring musical score…
  • Believable Characters: The narrator, in particular, conveys his whole character.
  • Real Consequences: There are dangerous situations and debilitating consequences for everyone.
  • Epic in Scope: It is not only about the survival of a diminishing empire, but also survival of knowledge and literature.
  • Subverts "Good versus Evil" Tropes: It’s tough to say who’s good or bad. Several times the narrator mentions that he has condemned individuals who only did what he himself wanted to do.
  • Different Perspectives: Not really. However, the narrator is aware and honest enough to record a forthright account that shows empathy for everyone he comes across.

Verdict:

Gritty in the right places, yet contemplative, even philosophical. The story has great pacing and highly readable prose, while packing a solid punch of epic grit.