Musings on writing, lessons learned by an aspiring professional, book reviews, movie reviews, an occasional t.v. show review, and unashamed opinion.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Folding Knife, and my discovery of K.J. Parker

I just finished reading one of the best fantasy novels I've read this year--The Folding Knife, by K.J. Parker.  It took me two months.  Not because it's a long book (only 442 pgs) but because I am a slow reader, preferring to listen instead.  Audible doesn't have any of Parker's books available, though, so I did this one the old fashion way.  I will rave about the book in just a moment, but I wanted to point out that I'd never heard of Parker before a couple months ago.  I really have no idea how this author escaped my attention--accept that the books aren't very commercial (I've only read the one so far, but from the bit of research I've done it seems Parker's work is all this way).  They are more literary fantasy than anything, which made The Folding Knife a very different read from what I usually get in to.  That said, Parker is brilliant.  Commence raving...

I loved this book, but for some reason it is hard to pin down why.  You see, it does everything that I've been told not to do by writers in my own writing.  Ever heard of the "show don't tell" line?  Writers (or people who think they know about writing) love to say this.  What it means is that rather than just telling me as narrator what your characters are doing, you show me by putting me behind their eyes, by giving me a window into their minds.  This way I experience the world of your story as if I were in it myself.  It's a hard skill to master, but when it's done right it makes a novel so much better.  Well, Parker is all tell in TFK.  It is the strangest thing, but damnit I was still immersed in this story.  I've found that I think about its main character and the things he gets into.  I find that I care about the people and world.  I guess it doesn't really matter how a story is told as long as it is accomplishing this.

Also, there are huge passages of exposition.  The narrative is told in a mostly-focused-on-one-person omnipotent.  The pacing is slow and there isn't a drop of magic to be found.  This is a different fantasy, probably not for everyone.

The story follows one man's rise and fall from power.  I'm not giving anything away, since the very first pages of the book tell you that Basso has already lost everything.  It even tells you why.  Don't worry, though, knowing that the protagonist will ultimately fail doesn't hurt this tale in the least.  In fact, I completely forgot about being told in the beginning what happens, because I was so engrossed (and it took me a while to read) in Basso's life.  You can't help but admire this complex character.  There's a lot of political maneuvering, tons of economics, and a bit of warfare.  Think of the life of Julius Caesar after he's returned to Rome and you'll have some idea of the flavor of TFK.  If you don't like a heavy dose of tragedy in your fiction... never mind.  I'm not going to tell you to avoid this book if you only like happy endings.  Come on.  Stretch yourself a little.  This book deserves to be read.  It's practically demanding your time.

Not sure why the title is what it is--oh sure, there's a folding knife mentioned, but it isn't a serious theme or anything.  At least not that I caught on my read-through.  And no one is really sure who K.J. Parker is, nor if Parker is a man or woman.  Weird that an author needs so much privacy, but whatever.  Parker is a master storyteller, and this book was very well done.  The Folding Knife gets 5 stars out of 5 from this reader.

Meanwhile, a couple of days later...

Okay.  I know why the book is titled what it is.  Dumb of me not to think of it before, but it did come to me, if a little late.  I'm not afraid to admit I'm an idiot... on occasion.


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