Author: K.J Parker
Title: The Two of Swords, Vol 3
Synopsis: The third volume in The Two of Swords trilogy by World Fantasy Award-winning author K.J. Parker.
“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.
It’s been a few years since I was last able to read K.J Parker, mostly because of issues getting hold of the books. But Two of Swords has been a welcome return to the unique narrations, memorable characters and intriguing plot-lines that make up Parker’s worlds.
Volume Three takes a different approach compared to the first two books. The entire book is told through Telamon’s narration. She was one of my favourite characters throughout the first two, so I enjoyed following her latest adventures through the war-stricken land, but it prevented the book from being as unique as the first two. I enjoyed the rotating narration style of the first two and this felt like returning to a tried and tested style rather than embracing doing things differently.
All of the characters from the first two books make an appearance though.
Telamon travels around, going where she is told and doing what she is instructed – until she receives an order that challenges her in a way she never expected and she thinks for herself – and listens to her heart for the first time since she was a child. We learn her back story and how she ended up with the Lodge. As she has been a narrator in the previous books, we’ve already been introduced to her, meaning this book can focus on her development as she is promoted through the mysterious Lodge.
She gave him a long, cold stare. “Silly me,” she said. “I was under the impression I got promoted on merit.”
He stood up. “Don’t push your luck,” he said, and left before she could say anything she’d live to regret.
Old characters show up – the Belot brothers are still fighting and Telamon faces both of them in the course of volume three. Oida is still revealing new depths to his character while his brother is more ambitious than is good for him. Musen is trying to leave items where they belong and an old rivalry with Teucer neatly loops events back to the very beginning.
This time, however, it is all told through Telamon’s view. I know and like these characters, but this book doesn’t inspire the same empathy as the first two did: you’re forced to go along with her versions of whose side people are on rather than the delightful obscurity of volumes one and two.
The plot was easier to keep track of though, because you follow the same character chronologically through events rather than wondering what happens to them in-between their designated chapters. I’m not certain if the events would have made sense told through multiple narrations because few people have the clearance to discover the secrets Telamon is privy to in this book.
The Lodge still leads to confusion. There were times when Telamon figures something out, but doesn’t express what she has realised – I had multiple times of being confused about what a supposedly big revelation was.
A lot happens but the pace is steady throughout. There are small moments of tension, but no big climax per se; everything unfolds at its own pace and you get swept along in the momentum.
A thoroughly enjoyable trilogy. I wish the narration style here had followed the others, but I still enjoyed reading.