Review: How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It by K.J. Parker



How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It

by K.J. Parker

Fantasy | 384 Pages | To be published by Orbit on 18th August 2020


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It picks up seven years after the events of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City. Told from the perspective of Notker – thespian, playwright, and son of a late Theme boss – this witty and over-dramatised tale tells the story of his coercion into a seat of power as tensions begin to fray both within The City and beyond its battered walls.

Funny, action-packed, and almost always surprising, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It is a sequel worthy of its predecessor. Whether just one in a series, or the final chapter, this book is sure to shock, amuse and entertain in equal measure.

| Synopsis |

This is the story of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through.

The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, it turns out that people appreciate an evening at the theatre even when there are large rocks falling out of the sky.

But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the Empire needs him – or someone who looks a lot like him – for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him first.

This is the story of Notker, an occasionally good man and a terrible liar. With razor-sharp prose and ferocious wit, K.J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes, and he might even get away with it.

| Review |

How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It tells the story of Notker, one part thespian, one part crook and two parts in over his head. Seven years have passed since the commencement of the siege. Seven years of enemy bombardments, seven years of death, blood and mayhem, and seven years staring at an enemy encampment turned temporary metropolis. Tensions within The City are frayed and, if the enemy doesn’t get there first, The City’s destruction might just come at its own hand.

With a speciality for impersonating the great and the good on stage, Notker finds himself in the unlikely position of having to impersonate hero and darling of The City, Lysimachus. But this time the world is his stage and life isn’t so easy at the top – pride most definitely comes before a very, hard fall. Notker, along with his grudging partner Hodda, and a whole host of crazed, bureaucratic and megalomaniac puppet masters, must save both The City and his own neck – well, mostly his own neck – before the ruin of all.

Through the Acts of a play, K.J. Parker has woven comedy, tragedy and fantasy tropes aplenty into an engaging and well-paced narrative. This stand-alone novel set in the same world as Sixteen, is often humorous and always charming, yet has an undercurrent of darkness that gives the story both depth and purpose. Told entirely from Notker’s perspective, this is a clever and surprising novel which revels in shocking and surprising its reader.

Throughout the tale Notker, in the true character of a performer, relishes in expounding humorous descriptions of books and plays which tie directly back to his own narrative. These amusing and anecdotal recitals help to develop both Notker’s character and flesh out the world around him, which despite his best intentions, remains a mere backdrop to The City’s leading lady. His own history and engagement with The City, through his familial connections, his work and his somewhat questionable lifestyle, allows The City to grow in tandem with Notker and become the true supporting character to his tale.

The style of narrative, however, lends itself to the caricature-esque development of ‘extras’ to Notker’s narrative; his reluctant partner, his crone-like mother and the rival parties vying for his control. Painted through Notker’s witty observations and unconscious bias, these supporting actors often miss out on the depth of character employed in other works of fiction, but retain their own unique and theatrical charm as a result of it.

In essence, this novel, and Sixteen before it, are books about ordinary folk who find themselves in a city on the brink of destruction, and who find that they have been coerced, tricked, or pulled into positions of power by friend and foe alike. The events may result in shock, laughter, surprise or an eye roll, but these are their stories; imperfect realism of an imagined history.

While the shock conclusion to Sixteen left a little to be desired, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It does not suffer from the same limitations. The climax is clever, surprising and ties the threads of the narrative together with a verve and panache one can only expect from a true tragicomedy. This is a book which reflects Notker – which is Notker – and the style that the author has chosen to employ can only be applauded.

Whether in The City or another land entirely, I can only hope to return to Notker, or Lysimachus, or whomever he may be impersonating now, once again.

Thank you to NetGalley and Orbit for providing a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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Teaser Tuesdays: The Man With One Name


Welcome to Teaser Tuesdays – a weekly feature hosted by The Purple Booker. Expect a new teaser every week!


| Teaser Tuesdays: July 14 |

The Man with One Name

A Tale of The God Fragments (Book 0.5)

by Tom Lloyd

Fantasy | 68 Pages | Published by Gollancz on 22nd March 2018


“Heavy lumps of cloud drifted overhead, patches of moonlight sliding with silvery grace over the town. The fainter light of a half-occluded Skyriver was barely enough for them to see by – only sufficient to avoid the various puddles and patches of ice lying in their path.

~ Chapter 5 | 45% | The Man with One Name by Tom Lloyd


| Synopsis |

Salterin is a town full of fear. Fear and sheep. But mostly fear.

It lies in the north of a principality recently shattered by the Hanese war, cut off from its neighbours and warily watching the advance of winter. Bandits and wolves haunt the woods, but something worse lies within. A monster named Therian has installed himself as lord of the manor and no one is foolish enough to oppose him.

In their hour of need comes a man with one name. A man who will not suffer monsters. Or mutton. But mostly monsters.

Amazon | Goodreads


| Join In |

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Please leave a comment with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment here!

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Teaser Tuesdays: How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It


Welcome to Teaser Tuesdays – a weekly feature hosted by The Purple Booker. Expect a new teaser every week!


| Teaser Tuesdays: July 07 |

How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It

Book Two of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

by K.J. Parker

Fantasy | 384 Pages | To be published by Orbit on 18th August 2020


“Artavasdus was enjoying the blood. Fair enough; as Saloninus says, the man who’s tired of killing is tired of life, and at least he made no bones, no pun intended, about it.

~ Act 1, Chapter 15 | 35% | How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It by K.J. Parker


| Synopsis |

This is the story of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through.

The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, it turns out that people appreciate an evening at the theatre even when there are large rocks falling out of the sky.

But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the Empire needs him – or someone who looks a lot like him – for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him first.

This is the story of Notker, an occasionally good man and a terrible liar. With razor-sharp prose and ferocious wit, K.J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes, and he might even get away with it.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| Join In |

  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

Please leave a comment with either the link to your own Teaser Tuesdays post, or share your ‘teasers’ in a comment here!

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Review: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker



Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

by K.J. Parker

Fantasy | 384 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2019


| Rating |


Having never read a novel by K.J. Parker, it came as something of a surprise to discover I had no less than five of his books loitering on my bookshelf. In a bid to eliminate dust and finally discover what all the fuss was about, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City became the next book to be cleared from the decks.

With a cover as eye-catching as its eccentric title, the first in this unnamed series had me hooked from the moment of its dusty extraction. A tale of sieges, battles and bloody escapades and falling, almost always, on your feet, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is a clever, action-packed and page-turning read that ended far too abruptly and far too soon.

This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten.

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all.

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job.

Orhan is an engineer, a bridge builder by trade and a colonel in the Robur army. When tales of pirate raids, slaughtered allies and a seemingly unstoppable enemy become unavoidable, Orhan turns his regiment to The City, the last bastion of the Robur.

But all is not as it seems.

The Robur army is all but lost, the naval fleet have disappeared, and the ruling elite have vanished without a trace. The people of The City stand on the precipice of disaster.

But hope is not lost – not while there is a sarcastic, lying Milkface to blunder his way to the top. Intelligent, uncertain and with more than a little luck on his side, Orhan inadvertently assumes control of the final stronghold of the empire.

The City’s salvation or its doom lie entirely at his feet.

The Robur rule a vast and uncompromising empire which stretches across the globe, absorbing different lands, peoples, and cultures into its fold. Indentured and little more than slaves, those that find themselves bending the knee must claw their way through a society which places value in the colour of skin and not a person’s worth.

But Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is not a story of empire, it is a tale of The City; a metropolis dominated by classism, racism and petty thuggery, where the elite rule the people and the Themes rule the streets. Gang warfare, gladiatorial battles, and gold reign supreme and are captured by Parker through Orhan’s frank observations of the world around him.

Narrated entirely in first-person, Orhan is a witty, self-deprecating protagonist who fumbles and blunders his way up the chain of command. His sharp wit and self-doubt play a leading role throughout the novel, culminating in unexpected successes, hapless disasters, and extraordinary moments of accidental genius.

While supporting characters never quite receive the flesh they deserve and female characters are somewhat scarce, Lysimachus, Orhan’s unwanted bodyguard and Aichma, his friend’s daughter, hint at more well-rounded character portrayals under the author’s belt – at least when not scrawled down by a bridge builder with delusions of grandeur.

Nevertheless, Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is a skilfully written novel with an excellent premise and a host of amusing characters. Parker also has the enviable knack of teasing a brilliant, eminently quotable paragraph in almost every chapter, which continue to rattle around my head as though Orhan were a sage.

But then we come to the end.

Through feats of engineering, tense stand-offs, and explosive battles, and fighting three hundred pages worth of impossible odds, Parker balances the reader on the precipice of something great…

…and then it’s all over.

Just.

Like.

That.

Rudely torn from The City’s infernal bosom, the narrative concludes in a most unsatisfactory and abrupt way. Whether this was the intent of the author or whether he simply ran out of steam, the unexpected and hastily tied up ending was a sobering and somewhat disappointing experience. Though – it must be stated – I was not sorry to have been taken along for the ride.

Just shy of blundering excellence, this novel is a wonderful opening salvo into the works of an author with a flair for the anti-hero, and provides a fitting introduction to a series which promises the most motley crew of liars, cheats and thieves the empire has ever seen.

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is a fast-paced novel full of interesting and imperfect characters whose somewhat lacklustre ending managed to knock Orhan’s five-star crown clean off.

Though, knowing Orhan, he probably would have preferred it this way. 

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