We’re on to part thirteen of our ongoing review series for K.J. Parker’s episodic novel, Two of Swords. It’s been a pretty good ride up to this point – filled with Parker’s trademark obfuscatory but somehow illuminating dialogue, complex characters, and a sense of events hurtling towards an unstoppable collision with an undetermined outcome.
This new part continues with that existing condition. We follow the acerbic, self-aware, and occasionally deliberately unpleasant Corason, a high-up official in the secret society known as The Lodge, as he attempts to traverse the country with at least one message. Along the way, he runs into the spectacularly named Eudaemonia Frontizoriastes (‘Eufro’), an imperial intelligencer apparently sent to keep an eye on him. The text covers their journey, at least nominally, to the city of Rasch.
It’s time for another trip into the desert. As usual, Parker does a good job of describing an arid, near-deadly environment, in a sparse, factual tone. The prose seems to indicate the sort of place where absolute care is necessary to avoid becoming a set of bleached bones at the side of the road, but it does so subtly, through asides, character observations and within dialogue, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks. We’ve been shifting environments swiftly over the last few parts, but this is one I’d rather like to see more of. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to live there, but it’s to the author’s credit that I ended this section of the narrative feeling the need for a glass of water.
We got a quick look at Corason in the preceding part of the text, when he surfaced as a possibly-friend of Axeo. Now we get to live in his head, and it’s…well, interesting. His narrative voice is surly, occasionally compassionate, and constantly thinking ahead. It has a lot of similarities with other characters operating at high levels in this world, but Parker manages to make Corason feel unique. Part of that is in the relationship he fosters with his antagonistic tail, Eufro. Watching the two of them bicker, and come to something of an understanding, is an absolute joy. Parker’s retained his gift for dialogue, and I’d say that here it shines. Admittedly, it’s the shine on the edge of a sword – and has a sense of dangerous tension to go along with it – but still. Eufro comes off as resigned, angry, and pragmatic. Watching two highly intelligent characters, with a gift for dialogue, jousting with each other as they cross a hostile environment…well, it’s at the core of this block of the narrative, and it’s a great read.
At heart, this section of Two of Swords is a character piece. How Corason and Eufro deal with each other as they grow familiar with their opposite number, is revealing about both parties. And each comes away having told us something about themselves and their humanity. But whilst that’s the centrepiece of the text, there’s hints of larger events at play. These circle around the edges of the text, proving both engrossing and entertaining. By the end of this part, it’s quite clear that events have caught up with the reader, and that the status quo, defined in the previous parts, is about to change dramatically – whether for the better or worse rather depending on which side one is on.
Is it worth reading? Well, as ever, if you’re starting out with this part, I’d suggest putting it down and going and finding the first part. There’s rather a lot to catch up on. If you’re up to date, then yes, this one’s worth keeping up with. There’s crackling dialogue, in a well realised environment, with, as ever, intelligent, cunningly crafted characters, struggling with each other, and with themselves. Well worth it.