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The Hammer

Posted by Dan Smyth On Thursday, February 10, 2011

THE HAMMER is KJ Parker’s third stand-alone book since the completion of her Engineer Trilogy, all of which have ostensibly been set in the same fantasy world. Though, if you know anything about her past works, you’ll know that her fantasy (fantastic as it is) isn’t necessarily “fantastical”, as magic is curiously absent throughout most of them. The thing that they do have though is character, and setting, and story. This is one of the many reasons why I love her stuff so much. Just good reading. Well, that, and they make me laugh.

Gignomai met’Oc is the youngest son of a noble family that has been banished from their home country for reasons numerous and political. They live on a large, raised plot of land, surrounded by sheer cliffs or tall, guarded walls, and keep themselves separate from the common folk of the local township for reasons numerous and social. He has a father, who lives in the library, waiting for a letter of apology and invitation from the mainland; an older brother, Sthenomai, who does his best to keep the decrepit farm they live on from falling down around their ears; a second, older brother, Lusomai, who spends his days hunting deer, harassing Gig, and leading various guards on chaotic sorties against the township folk (occasionally, coming back with animals or other stolen goods); and a sister and mother, neither of which we see very much of. Gig spends his days avoiding work, reading books that he has stolen from his father’s library, or visiting his friend Furio down in town. We get two chapters of this and it is done to great effect.

But then the bad thing happens, and the real story begins.

Why do good people occasionally do bad things? What forces are able to lead them in directions they would not otherwise go? And once their choice has taken root, how far will these good people go to follow them to the ultimate end? These questions are at the heart of this book and they drive it much further than I thought they would. This book is about family. It’s about friendships. But it’s about love and decency too. It has Parker’s morally ambiguous character at its center in Gig. He also plays the resident genius though, combing through old books to learn how to erect an factory, to build a massive furnace, and then to work steel in its finery. A bit of a stretch, okay, but why is he doing all this? What’s his drive? The first half of the third chapter (which is ~90% of the book) is interesting, though it did drag a bit in some parts. Mostly, I was wondering where this was all going. And the bad thing. What was the bad thing?

Then, about halfway through, she gives it to us. And the story changes entirely.

This was done to great effect, but the second half of chapter three nearly killed me. The whole time, I’m thinking, “He’s not really going to do that. Is he? Really?” There’s this crushing sense of foreboding that just hangs over everything, and as the book progressed it got heavier and heavier as I began to see just what Gig was going to do. Relationships and conversations that occur between him and others took on completely new meanings. I started rationalizing for him, wanting him to see what was right there in front of his face. So well done.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the book was without its faults. Like I mentioned, the first half did drag on a bit. The fact that nearly the entire book was a single chapter was a bit off-putting. There’s also a pivotal scene near the end that felt pretty forced. Of course things worked in Gig’s favor here, which led to him getting what he wanted. If it hadn’t worked out so well, I probably would have been able to overlook it. The ending was a bit lackluster too. It didn’t really address the fallout of what Gig did. Everyone just kind of went back to life, though with minor changes. And that bothered me a bit.

So, good? Yeah. The characters of interest were complex and well-realized, the world was simple but true to form, and I laughed enough to keep me happy with it all. Was it her best? In some ways. Though in others, not so much. If you haven’t read anything from KJ Parker before, I’d suggest looking into her shorter works. But this one was good too. And well worth the read...especially if you are a Parker fan like myself.

Recommended age: 16+, for mature themes.
Language: Not much; PG-13 worthy.
Violence: Two scenes: one remembered, the second in action. Though not gory, both were pretty graphic.
Sex: Discussed, but no scenes.

KJ Parker’s Wiki as she has no official homepage yet. Grumble, grumble…


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