Saturday, August 7, 2010
Posted by PeterWilliam at 1:00 PM
The Escapement, by K.J. Parker
Publisher: Orbit, ©2007
ISBN 10: 0-316-00340-9
ISBN 13: 978-0-316-00340-7
Copy: Out of pocket
From the back of the book: The engineer Ziani Vaatzes engineered a war to be reunited with his family. The deaths were regrettable, but he had no choice.
Duke Valens dragged his people into the war to save the life of one woman -- a woman whose husband he then killed. He regrets the evil he's done, but he, equally, had no choice.
Secretary Psellus never wanted to rule the Republic or fight a desperate siege for its survival. As a man of considerable intelligence, however, he knows that he has a role to play -- and little choice but to accept it.
With The Escapement, K.J. Parker brings the Engineer trilogy to a close. The climax that has built thus far, explodes (literally) before the gates of Mezentia. The result, while not necessarily expected or anticipated, is in keeping with the style Parker has set thus far. In that sense, the ending seemed symmetrical and orderly, while also being bittersweet -- probably more bitter than sweet.
The destruction brought about by love and duty is a dominating theme throughout. In that sense, each character defines their circumstances as, "having had no choice." While I found the characters' reasoning, positions and definitions unpersuasive, it remained consistent, coherent and self-contained.
Truly, there is a malaise that underlies the characters, theme and totality of the tale. I wouldn't necessarily link it to the concept of 'depressing' proper, but would attempt to pin it down as "dysthymia, secondary to PTSD."
One item that was very noticeable to me was that the cultures within the tale had a near-total absence of any spirituality. There were no priesthoods, deities or religions, which seemed rather unusual since nearly every culture among our species has something to that effect. Within the trilogy, such things are briefly addressed by stating that certain cultures (i.e. Mezentine, Vadanai) used to have such things. I don't recall where they went, but it was treated as a vestigial element of the culture that had long since fallen away.
Without interviewing the author on the matter, it isn't likely to be discovered if the temperamental, and spiritual, apathy was a part of the plot design, or if it was the subtle influence of the author's own experiences/worldview. It does make me wonder, as though I were plagued with an inexorable itch, what the person behind the K.J. Parker pseudonym is really like.
Either way, the Engineer trilogy was a wonderfully composed and executed trilogy, which has convinced me to go forth and acquire every other work by K.J. Parker that I can find. Based upon the Engineer trilogy alone, Parker deserves a larger profile than he/she (frackin' pseudonyms!) currently has.