The thing about reading KJ Parker books is that, after just a couple, you realize that the unreliable narrator and the twist are definitely coming. So when I pick up another one (which I always will, because my god, these down-to-earth, irreverent geniuses he writes!), I know that a big surprise is coming. So, like, is that a spoiler?
Who cares? Mightier than the Sword appeared on Netgalley and I hopped right on it, as I will do with any KJ Parker novella that pops up in my line of sight. I'm terrible at unreliable narrators, never do get over believing them, even when I'm sure I shouldn't. And his narrators--even the scoundrels--are just so darned likeable. I think it's because they're very, very competent. Remember Blue and Gold, where the narrator solved about eight different life-or-death problems with one really basic plan? Remember the bit about his wife?
Mightier than the Sword is another book about a favored son of an empire, winner of wars and highly regarded, given a seemingly impossible task and dealing with personal trouble on top of it. Our narrator here has proposed to his lady (of the night) friend, of which proposal his aunt the Empress will not approve, and has been sent to investigate the raiders who have been attacking the northern monestaries.
Most of the book is a tour of the northern monestaries, and my Major Thing about monastic life might have fed my love of this part, but anyone who's into political fantasy will be into this. These are people who are now far from the center of the empire for one reason or another, But who are at the center of their own worlds, and each house has its own way of things--illuminating manuscripts or working the field, rich or poor, strict or lenient. All being attacked by barbarians we can't pin down.
There are, I'm sure, enough clues to figure it out, if you're willing to follow the twists and turns. But it's so much more satisfying, in my opinion, to sit back and let everyone's cleverness wash over you. I know there will be a twist; I suspect someone is going to betray our fellow, though it's possible he'll betray someone himself--you never can tell around these parts. I don't care. I am a sucker for competence.
If you're waiting eagerly for the upcoming continuation of the adventures of Eugenides the Thief from Megan Whalen Turner, let K.J. Parker tide you over.