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The Scavenger Trilogy
by K. J. Parker

classifications: Fantasy / Dark / Philosophical

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The second trilogy by Parker opens with a less than promising premise - a man who has lost his memory. What could possibly be done with such an old and worn out literary device?

A remarkable amount, it turns out. Parker cements herself as my favourite author, and one of the best writers I have ever enountered. From the opening dialogue involving a character and his own reflection, as seen from the viewpoint of a crow, nothing ever is quite what you expect. Parker is a master of insinuation, suggesting and hinting but never saying anything outrightly - then stepping back with an innocent expression when all the hints turn out to be clever deceits.

Parker is obviously very fond of forging and manufacture as a metaphor, as this repeated theme of The Fencer Trilogy once again forms the core of Parker's allusions. A very fitting metaphor it is too, since much of the plot refers to the god of fire and forging, Poldarn. It is perhaps a little worrying; it would be a shame if someone of Parker's talents only wrote stories that lend themselves to this one metaphor. The repetition of other, related, themes adds to this concern a little, but even if this should prove to be the case, we can at least enjoy it before it becomes overworked.

To one not as interested in how and why things work, Parker may come across as a little dry on occasions. She revels in explaining minutae of various manufacturing processes. This can be a little excessive, but Parker often cleverly uses the process just explained as an illustration of events in the story, either offering a new angle on the past, on hinting at what the future may become.

Parker's seeming obsession for accuracy has one extremely beneficial quality however - it gives the story an amazing sense of realism. She takes care to always use the correct trade terms for everything, whether on a boat or in a button factory. Even if the foreward did not say as much, you would easily guess that Parker has done, or at least watched, most of the skilled trades discussed. The result is an amazing sense of rightness, and therefore, actuality. So much happens exactly as you would expect it to in real life - giving the more fantastical elements an odd believability.

This is furthered by Parker's characters. The inhabitants of her world again are wonderfully lifelike. All are imperfect and make mistakes, often amusingly - not to be deliberately funny, but simply because real life sometimes is. Likewise, unpleasant things happen, again, sometimes simply because that is how the world works.

The second book of the three, Pattern is perhaps the weakest of the three - well, no, not weakest - least necessary. It is almost entirely depth and background, setting up and providing a backdrop for the events of Memory. Certainly without it, much of the impact of the trilogy's closure would be lost, but no doubt some will question the necessity of such a lengthy volume solely for that.

So enjoyable to read is Parker, however, that I suspect such complaints will be few. As everything draws to a close, the pieces reveal themselves and the hints sudenly click, Parker cleverly fools you one last time into thinking you know it all, before pulling the floor from under you in the last few paragraphs.

All the hallmarks of Parker's first work are here again. Intricate, surprising, amusing and real. This is a far cry from the stereotypical "heroic" fantasy, but it should be on the bookshelf of any fan of the genre despite, or rather because of, this.

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