|Colours in the Steel: The Fencer Trilogy, Volume 1|
Date: May, 2003 — $8.99 — Book
K.J. Parker is the pseudonym of an author who writes a slightly different type of fantasy under the original name. My guilty secret (not so secret now, I guess) is that I like the Parker style of writing better, mainly because with the other style there's a bit of a culture difference, and I always feel as though I'm missing something.
Anyway. The Colours of the Steel introduces us to Bardas Loredan, a legal fencer (one who settles court disputes in the manner of killing or disabling his opponent. However, there's a shadow of doom over the Triple City, Perimadeia, in the form of a personable young plainsman, who has come to the city to learn the techniques to bring it down.
At this point I should note a character trait that drives me nuts. That's the inability to let something go, to be driven, to feel as though you are being forced to do something you really don't want to do. Nineteenth century literature is full of that mindset, particularly Edith Wharton (Ethan Frome! Ethan fricking Frome!), and it's something I can't get a good hold on, since I'm a product of my times, and feel as though I have limitless opportunity.
So Temrai, learning about all the cool things that Perimadeia can do, becomes reluctant— but is resolved to destroy the city anyway. But it works, and somehow Bardas ends up in charge of the defenses. It's fairly realistic at this point, with Bardas having to endure a horrible seige on the one hand, and the cityfolk claiming he's too brutal on the other.
This book is notable for the number of broken swords in it. Seriously, there's quite a point made about how beating swords against each other over time makes them break. It's the first time I've seen that idea really brought into fantasy aside from the standard "hero's sword breaks, villain laughs and then hero wins at the last minute" gag.
At any rate, Bardas is not the ideal of a fencer. one gets the impression of him as more of a blacksmith, perhaps, or a lumberjack, someone who just keeps plugging away until the job is done, not somebody with much in the way of finesse. (In fact, he's decent but not stellar as a legal fencer.) Definitely not the intuitive type. The weird part is how he is set up as the sympathetic character without being in the least bit sympathetic. He doesn't want sympathy, though it's hard to figure out what he does want.
But yes— interesting read. It doesn't delve very deep into motivations, and is plot driven rather than character driven, but it's nearly impossible to guess what's going to happen next. Ingenuity is rare in the written world, and is to be treasured.