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
| 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.