Anyone who who has been following the blog, for a while, will know that I may well be the only person blogging who didn't get on with K.J. Parker's 'The Company'. You think I'm joking don't you (especially as you'd be hard pressed to find a bad word about Parker online)? Seriously, check out my review Here and you'll see what I mean about not getting on with 'The Company'.
I've only read one other story of Parker's since then, 'A Rich Full Week' - from the 'Swords and Dark Magic' anthology, (and I didn't get on brilliantly with that either) but I couldn't get away from the feeling that I might be missing out on something by staying away from the party. Have a look online and see if you can find a negative review of Parker's work... No, I couldn't either.
So it was then that when I came across a K.J. Parker conversation on Twitter, kicked off by the mighty brain behind 'Fantasy Faction', I knew that I had to get some recommendations and see if I was missing out on anything after all. Jared, of Pornokitsch fame, initially recommended 'The Folding Knife' but it was the promise of a free read that really piqued my interest. 'Amor Vincit Omnia' can be found, in its entirety, on the Subterranean Press website and made for a great little read before I went to bed. Then it made for a great little read on the way to work yesterday morning and the morning before that. I'd encourage you all to go and give it a read. I'm still not a hundred percent sure about K.J. Parker's work but I'm a lot more interested now than I've ever been. I'm going to have to find a copy of 'The Folding Knife' and check that out as well...
'Amor Vincit Omnia' is based in the same setting as 'A Rich Full Week' where magic has been defined as another branch of philosophy and science. I'll say right now that the definition is a lot more clear this time round as there is a lot of discussion around the variants of established 'science' being employed by a renegade who is displaying his powers in the worst possible way. It's the most innocuous of these though that is proving the most cause for alarm and a member of the scientific community, deemed promising yet expendable, is sent to take care of what could prove to be a very large problem indeed. Can the actions required to resolve this issue really be justified though?
I have to say that my initial reading of 'Amor Vincit Omnia' just threw all the same issues in my face that I'd had with 'The Company'. There is just no getting away from the fact that Parker can be an incredibly dry writer who loves to go on in a little too much length about the technical theory underpinning her stories, how things work and why they should work like that. This is even worse in a short story like 'Amor Vincit Omnia' where a lot of the explanation comes in the first few paragraphs, that's an awful lot to wade through before you can get to the story itself!
Having said that though, while it's clear to me now that while Parker enjoys going into the technical side of things there's also evidence of a sense of humour in 'Amor Vincit Omnia' that suggests a different kind of enjoyment entirely. I'm talking about lines like,
'There was a short, rather painful silence. Raw emotion, like raw chicken, upset elderly gentlemen of regular habits.'
Lines like that, and there are more, actually did a lot to dispel that air of dryness and kept me reading in the hope of finding more. I found myself chuckling at completely unexpected moments, the best kind of chuckling you can do.
'Amor Vincit Omnia' is a lot more than a humorous tale though (although I did enjoy some of the parallels drawn with Pratchett's Unseen University). It's a very clever tale that seizes on what look like throwaway sentences and shows them to be pivotal moments in the story. I'm talking about moments so tiny that you'll pass over them to get to what you think is the meaty stuff, only to find that you've bypassed something really tasty. Parker is clearly very adept at getting the reader to go where she wants them to and then changing the direction of the story entirely. I also found the implications of 'Lorica' to be real food for thought and something that gave the story real impetus in all the right places.
But 'Amor Vincit Omnia' is a lot more than this as well. It's very much a tale about the lengths people will go to in order to keep the balance of power just as it is and regardless of the cost. The reader can understand the reasoning behind this ('Lorica' is a very big deal) but once you see what Framea must do, and the results of this, then you can't help but wonder if the renegade should have just been allowed to walk away and live in relative ignorance of his abilities. There's a lot to think about here and that's one of the reasons I came back to this story more than once.
I don't think I'll ever be entirely comfortable with Parker's dry tone and the level of technical detail, in what I've read so far, will always have me stifling a yawn or two. 'Amor Vincit Omnia' goes beyond this though and the end result is nothing short of a gripping read. 'Amor Vincit Omnia' is the tale that got me back into reading K.J. Parker and I'm looking forward to hopefully reading more of the same.
Nine and a Half out of Ten