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The Belly of the Bow
by K. J. Parker

classifications: Fantasy / Dramatic

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This, the second in Parker's Fencer Trilogy, is an interesting contrast with my comments on A Song of Ice and Fire. This book is dark in places. Unpleasant (very unpleasant) events occur. Yet through it all, it remains a joy to read.

Primarily, this is due to Parker's style. She has a sardonic, almost flippant way of describing things. Coupled with her wry observations on human nature, which at times reminded me of Pratchett, I found myself laughing and quoting sections to people near me in the same manner as the first book. No matter what happens, the optomistic, upbeat tone of the writing never lets the story feel maudlin.

That does not mean you will not feel for the characters. They are artfully described and portrayed; I found myself mentally cheering with each victory, and commiserating each failure. Yet, even at their lowest points, there is always a feeling of hope.

The storyline again centers on Bardas Loredan, ex-fencer-at-law, now a bowyer. Much more emphasis, however, is given over to the other members of his family this time around, as more of their past and motivations are explored. It is not a journey of sweetness and light - the Loredans are a very twisted bunch, as they themselves remark more than once. It is, however, an engrossing and intricate journey, as Parker slowly reveals a portion of the larger picture. It is subtely and delicately done, and I suspect this book would be enjoyed as much on subsequent readings as the first. Things from the first book that seemed mysterious and central turn out to be awesomely simple and insignificant, yet previously obvious events turn out to have hidden depths.

Parker once again shows the attention to detail that made the first book so believable. She mentions in the foreward that she has personally made all bows described in the book (bar one obvious exception), and that knowledge shines through. This is someone who knows what they are writing about, and this obvious experience lends much credence to the tale.

Again, after reading The Belly of the Bow, I am left with the curious feeling of having missed something, that nothing actually happened. Or, perhaps more accurately, the important things happened in the background, while you were reading the story. Subtle once more beautifully summarises Parker's writing. Hints and teases suggest you are seeing the true story only in fleeting glimpses hidden amongst the foreground plot. Metaphor, allusion and nested meanings abound.

The Belly of the Bow is enjoyable on many levels, and it's optomistic tone make a refreshing change to much of today's bleak writing. As with it's prequel, this is definately not a story you want to miss.

drd (January 8th, 2004, 12:44 pm)

I agree. A very intreging story that really grabbed me from beginning to end.

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