Author: K.J Parker
Title: The Two of Swords, Vol 1
Synopsis: “Why are we fighting this war? Because evil must be resisted, and sooner or later there comes a time when men of principle have to make a stand. Because war is good for business and it’s better to die on our feet than live on our knees. Because they started it. But at this stage in the proceedings,” he added, with a slightly lop-sided grin, “mostly from force of habit.”
A soldier with a gift for archery. A woman who kills without care. Two brothers, both unbeatable generals, now fighting for opposing armies. No-one in the vast and once glorious United Empire remains untouched by the rift between East and West, and the war has been fought for as long as anyone can remember. Some still survive who know how it was started, but no-one knows how it will end.
The Two of Swords is the story of a war on a grand scale, told through the eyes of its soldiers, politicians, victims and heroes.
I was introduced to K.J Parker during my final year at university a few years ago. Since then, I have read a couple of the trilogies, but find the books difficult to get hold of. When I saw Two of Swords available through The Works, I jumped at the chance to read some more.
In just a few pages, I remembered why I love these books. The narration style is always different with Parker’s books, and this was no exception.
The book is split into seven chapters, and each is a different character’s view point. The story progresses, however, as each character picks up where the last leaves off – literally, in fact, as the characters overlap and pass the story onto the last character they have engaged with.
All of the characters are unique. Telamon was my favourite, not only because she is the only female character, but she has a more complex character: she kills a man to get a place on a boat, but tries to avoid torturing someone, despite orders.
So simple after that. The only problem was getting him to shut up.
Senza came in close second. The interesting thing with changing narrations is there is no ‘bad guy’. For some of the book, Senza seems to be on the wrong side, but once you read his view, you get a man stumbling through a war with his every move already predicted by his enemy: his big brother. Senza had relatable qualities: I can’t put my finger on why I empathised with him more than others, I just did.
The plot, in a nutshell, follows the progression of a war. Two sides, plus a neutral county in-between, attempting to either win or, at the least, not lose. But there is more going on than that: there’s an emperor seeking a pack of cards that can tell the future if used right. A mysterious organisation known only as the lodge have influence on both sides yet appear to be on no one’s. There are a lot of different agendas taking place, and it’s not always clear who is working for who.
Even with the changing narrations, the plot moves at a steady pace. You don’t visit the same place, or narration, twice, but they do turn up as other characters move the story forward. There’s no backstory: once you leave a character, you don’t find out what happens to them until they next surface – their development could go in any direction.
It leaves you guessing. When one character is supposed dead, you never find out for certain – you’ve had his narration and are relying on others. No one has clear information from then on though, meaning the reader knows no more than the characters. It adds suspense, tension and leaves you as desperate for the answers!
There are moments when I got confused. The whole situation with the ‘lodge’ is never properly defined, so some of the terms and exactly who they were left me lost.
A thoroughly enjoyable book and I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.