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Book Review: Evil for Evil by K. J. Parker

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There is no going back for any of the characters in Evil for Evil, the second book of K. J. Parker’s Engineer Trilogy. Their world is coming apart and as the facades fall we gain insight into the men and women populating it. The war machine that the engineer, Vaatzes, is constructing — with these people as the parts — is coming together quickly and it will permanently alter everything.

Like its predecessor, Evil for Evil is a perspicuously written novel with a complicated story and complex characters. The politics of Mezentia, the manufacturing empire that dominates all the other nations, is brought to the fore. Also in the spotlight are the motivations of all the characters as they come to grips with a new power structure in their worlds.

Parker created complex characters in the first book of the series, Devices and Desires. They are characters with flaws, scars, doubts; people forced into difficult circumstances, often due to their own bad choices. We became interested in them all and the challenge for book two is to keep us interested and up the stakes for the characters. Challenge faced, challenge met.

There is Ziani Vaatzes, the engineer at the center of this storm. He was sentenced to death because he went beyond the engineering Specifications that are the gospel in Mezentia. But he escaped and set in motion a plan to be reunited with his family – a plan that will cost everyone around him dearly.

As he subtly manipulates events in Civitas Vadanis, the city of Duke Valens, he coldly distances himself from its people, preferring to think of them as savages. He grapples with the morality of the mechanism he manufactures and takes a peek into his past. He begins to see with clarity what brought him to this path. He is also brought face to face with the fact that what he hopes to accomplish via his war may no longer be attainable.

A significant new character is introduced: the very odd Gace Daurenja. He enters the story innocently and becomes a major presence – in fact, he becomes a match for the great engineer. Daurenja has as much engineering knowledge as Vaatzes and is just as driven on his own special project. But he needs Vaatzes help to finish his project, just as Vaatzes is forced to tolerate Daurenja assistance. Their schemes will intersect, whether they like it or not.

Valens is a strong minded and cunning leader who has now put his entire nation in jeopardy because of one foolish choice. His people are forced to evacuate their home and are on the run. Valens battles his guilt and the overpowering forces of mercenaries from Mezentia. He is tormented by his feelings for Veatriz, the wife of Duke Orsea. She is who he has done everything for and it seems that with every choice he pushes her away from him.

Parker does a wonderful job at exposing the inner workings of the characters. The narrative clearly shows the thoughts of each one, their dialogue and actions often contrasting these thoughts. This contrast gives insight into these people. It’s an excellent job of characterization. It fits well with the engineering and manufacturing themes.

The different nations and races feel real and are effectively described; the coldness of the Mezentines, the dependence of the Vadani, the consanguinity of the Cure Hardy.

Evil for Evil is a successful continuation of the series. It does bog down at times with long exposition. The characters get a bit maudlin and sappy, too. But the tension is kept up, the pressure builds. Parker’s not afraid to off an important character or two. That certainly ups the stakes for the characters – and our interest in them.

The Engineer Trilogy is not a familiar fantasy story. There is no king ascending to a lost throne, no wizards, no magical races, none of the usual trappings. It’s a story about humanity, about survival and about love. For that is the reason all the tragedies in this story occur. It’s watching the characters struggle to understand the nature of love that makes this such an intriguing series.

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About Gray Hunter

  • I read the first volume. I’m halfway thorugh this one. I will not finish.

    I’ve decided to stop reading it because I don’t like any of the characters. All of them are blinded by love to the point of either deliberately doing evil, or at best failing to do their duty.

    The characters present themselves as having no choice. Wrong. They are making choices. They are making bad choices. They are doing evil.

    The world of EfE is unconvincing. Cities don’t exist in isolation. In the first volume this wasn’t central to the story. In this volume the whole notion of taking a capital city on the road is silly:

    * Most people living in a medieval city walk to where they need to go. Lots of mentioning of streets too narrow for wagons. Where did all the wagons come from? Rural areas? Right. How many rural farms have more wagons than they would need to use to move their own people?

    * Even in modern times, evacuating a city is non-trivial. In a society wehre everyone owns a car. Or two. Or three. Some people will stay behind out of stubbornness, or desire to loot, or ignorance, or to stay with one who is too ill to move, or…

    * The notion that you can be hard to find when moving multiple thousands of people by horse and wagon is absurd. About as easy to hide a cattle drive. 20,000 people with reasonable stuff is 5000 wagons. (Typical density of American covered wagons on their trip west.) 5000 wagons at 50 feet per wagon (Figure 12-16 feet of wagon 6 foot space, 6 feet of horse, and 20 -30 feet to next wagon is 250,000 feet– about 50 miles.

    Put 5000 wagons along a road and you will know they have passed. By the time the end of the line passes (about 3-4 days) the road will be 6-8 inches deep in manure.

    10,000 horses. Lot of hay. Ok. Horses are self feeding, but access to water is going to be a problem.

    Now admittedly that 20,000 figure was a guess. Pericles’ Athens was about 12,000 citizens and 20,000 slaves. But there were small towns for miles in every direction. I can’t see a viable duchy at being less than that, not when you have almost no local industry.

  • Interesting commentary. Thanks for reading – my review, at least.