Two of Swords is the new serialised novel by K.J. Parker. The first seven parts are available now, and run to about eighty pages each. Further parts will be made available on a monthly basis. I’m going to try and put out a review for one of the currently available parts each week, and then review each new part in the month where it becomes available.
Part Seven of the series keeps up the tradition of perspective changes. In this case, we’re taken into the mind of the Emperor, one of the men at the heart of the war tearing apart the Empire. We last saw him at the close of his meeting with one of the Belot brothers in Part Six, where he impressed as an avatar of acuity and focus. It’s interesting to see Parker bring back the motif of doubles again here – two Empires, two Belot brothers, whose personal struggles have ended with them leading the opposing empires for those Empires…and two Emperors.
The Emperor we see here is not quite the same as the one from Part Six. He feels more vulnerable, more fragile. There’s meditations on age here – not least as the Emperor ascends a long set of stairs to the summit of his observatory. There’s also some discussion around mortality – events conspire to make our new protagonist aware of the fragility and immediacy of his existence.
This segment is particularly short – something in the area of forty pages. Perhaps as a result, there’s not much exploration of the world in which the Emperor lives. I would have liked to have seen more of the palace. But it’s part of the growing ascension of intimacy in the segments – we began with sweeping events, seen at low levels, and now seem to be in an area of character studies of those who make, or think they make, the decisions everyone else suffers under. Most of the page count is spent, as above, on the Emperor, on his thoughts, feelings and desires, and not on events, per se. This is a piece of prose based on reflection, in the main.
That isn’t to say that it isn’t fascinating. Parker’s trademark prose is in full spate here. There’s some wonderfully wry observations on both the Belot brothers, and the art of governing more generally. As ever, it’s a pleasure to read. And although the build-up is gradual, the narrative definitely carries some heft by the close. There’s a sense of events teetering on a cusp, of the opportunity for change, and the risk of stagnation. Parker takes the time, not to answer questions raised by previous segments, but to suggest that those questions do, in fact, have answers – and then to ask more questions. It’s not advancing the plot, so much as it is opening it up, giving the arcs so far a broader application, and leaving the situation open to change.
Overall then, this is a decent segment in the ongoing story. We get an interesting new viewpoint, which also has quite a lot to say on the broader stage. And we get to see the plot begin to shift across the pages, events unfurling in new and intriguing ways. I tore through this, and enjoyed it immensely, despite the initial slow pace – I just wish it hadn’t been over quite as soon as it was!