It begins with an engineer. He thinks like a machine and sees the mechanisms in everything. He lives in a manufacturing kingdom called Mezentia and works at an ordnance factory designing all manner of products, but mostly machines of war. He decides one day to make a gift for his daughter. But he goes beyond the binding specifications of his trade and ends up on trial. He is condemned to death. When this engineer finds out that his family will not receive any monetary assistance because of the charges against him, he decides to escape and re-shape the world.
In Devices and Desires, author K. J. Parker outlines in believable detail the workings of Mezentia, this land of engineering. Specifications, measurements, processes and techniques are all laid out quite specifically. This system did its work on the book’s main character, Ziani Vaatzes. He thinks of everything as a big machine. When he leaves his country, he no longer has the metal and tools to work with that he’s used to so he creates the machine of war using the flesh and blood around him. He quickly divines the desires of the nobles in the country to which he defected and puts his devices into action. He has a single purpose in mind, to get his family back, and he has no time for compassion along the way. He struggles with that; at times, his humanity nearly threatens to derail his machination. That struggle makes for good drama.
The politics of the various kingdoms in Parker’s world are explained well. Mezentia politics is like the workings of corporate management. It is eerily reminiscent of work. If this work is a statement against the soulless machinations of the world’s corporations, it makes a strong case. The only motivation behind the politics of Mezentia is profit or prestige. The other kingdoms are ruled by dukes and other nobles.