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The Proof House
by K. J. Parker

classifications: Fantasy / Dark / Philosophical / Dramatic

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If you have read my reviews of the previous books in the Fencer Trilogy, then you will already have a good idea of the style to expect from this. The same subtle humour, the same suggestive writing that hints at the deeper currents beneath. Obviously, being the last of the series, there is more explanation this time round - though only just enough. Parker leaves much of the deeper questions to you; upon finishing I spent quite a while just staring into space trying to digest the implications of it all. That was the first reason for my opening remark.

Secondly, the ending was very unexpected and not entirely pleasant. The books get steadily darker as they progress (without losing the dry humour), but the ending is unexpectedly so. It does tie everything neatly together, as mentioned above, but that is little consolation for what happened to my favourite characters. I find the desire to reach in and just tweak this or that event is strong - ironically, however, that is one of the major themes of the book; small changes can have remarkably large and unforeseen results, and interfering where you do not understand can have some very unpleasant consequences. Such is the delicacy Parker has shown in writing this series, that I would not be surprised if it was her intention to create that feeling.

Both of the previous books have used military and engineering technology as thematic symbolism throughout. The Proof House is no different, using the testing of armour, "proofing", to explain the why and what the characters go through. That is not the only illustration used, however, and sometimes Parker seems to get a little carried away with her ideas and clever allusions, which can lead to confusion. You end up not quite sure whether Bardas Loredan is a piece of armour, a bow, a camshaft or all of them at once. This whole series is one that deserves and needs several readings to truly get the most from it.

Do not expect answers from this book. Expect clever allusions, subtle hints, and lots of deep philosophical questions. This is a book (and a series) for those that love to think. If you are one such, however, you will enjoy every moment.

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