About the book
K.J. Parker’s new novel is a perfectly executed tale of intrigue and deception.
For the first time in nearly forty years, an uneasy truce has been called between two neighbouring kingdoms. The war has been long and brutal, fought over the usual things: resources, land, money…
Now, there is a chance for peace. Diplomatic talks have begun and with them, the games. Two teams of fencers represent their nations at this pivotal moment.
When the future of the world lies balanced on the point of a rapier, one misstep could mean ruin for all. Human nature being what it is, does peace really have a chance?
480 pages (paperback)
Published on: July 17, 2012
Published by: Orbit
This book was given to me to review by the publisher.
You can purchase this book by clicking on the following links:
A little while ago the wonderful people at Orbit asked me if I’d like to review K.J. Parker’s book Sharps and then be part of a mini interview. After I got done dancing around the house with excitement (and making my baby wonder if her momma is crazy), I emailed back and said YES! There are a few reasons I’m so excited about this. First, K.J. Parker is my absolute favorite author. Period. Secondly, K.J. Parker is a mystery. No one knows who Parker is, and while I think that’s half the fun, it also means that I’ll never get to meet this author so I can ramble incoherently and stutter while I get their signature in a book. You see, for psychopaths like me, this really is just about as good as it gets.
But now it’s time for the dirt in my story. Now I’m confronted with the actual work. I have to review Sharps. That was the agreement. I’m staring at my computer screen right now wondering how on earth I’m going to accomplish this. There is a question a lot of reviewers are asked, “What’s harder, reviewing books you love or hate?” Everyone has a different answer. My answer? It’s harder for me to review books I love because all I really want to say is, “READ THIS BOOK! NOW! READ IT! THIS BOOK IS INCREDIBLE!!!” Over and over again, complete with caps lock on and bold red business-like font. I can’t do that, though, because that’s not a review, that’s just the ramblings of an over-excited woman. Here is my attempt at reviewing one of the best books I’ve ever read in my entire life.
Sharps is classic Parker, only better. Sharps is a stand-alone, and like all of Parker’s other stand-alones, I always find myself absolutely amazed by how much plot, humor, depth and action the author can pack into one book. Sharps tells the story of five fencers from Scheria who are either willingly selected, or coerced, into going on a fencing tour into neighboring Permia, where there was once a brutal war. Finally there is a chance at true peace between the countries, and these five unlikely fencers are the individuals meant to pave the way for a more neighborly attitude. However, like all things Parker writes, it’s not that simple. The plot is layers and layers thick, and it doesn’t take long for the reader to realize that the meat of the story lies far below the surface.
The conflict, and the road to a true peace between the two countries, isn’t simple. There are tough political waters the fencers have to wade through, none of them truly understanding what they are in the middle of, nor how to get through it. Part of the excitement in Sharps is Parker’s uncanny ability to thrust the characters and the readers in the middle of an incredibly layered situation and let everyone figure it out together. As the book unfolds, the characters discover more about their situation and as they discover this, the reader also learns more about Scheria and Permia. As more becomes clear, Parker subtly weaves incredible atmosphere into the book until the anxiety and confusion the characters feel will flood the reader as well. The atmosphere in Sharps is so realistic and well done it’s truly contagious.
Parker’s characterization is nothing short of incredible. Parker is an amazingly detailed and deep author, and that also shows in the characters as well as the plot. The five fencers are very diverse in background and personality and each character is painstakingly wrought and brutally realistic within the framework of the novel. Each character thinks and acts very differently, and it’s these differences that really makes the novel the gem it truly is. Parker’s characteristic sarcasm is evident in their interactions and thoughts. As the novel progresses, the reader will get to know each character a bit better. However, Parker somehow manages to keep the characters mysterious while letting the reader get to know their thoughts and secrets. It’s this mystery that surrounds each character that helps the culmination of the novel stay a huge surprise.
The characters in Sharps are all very intelligent, and they all have their own reasons for doing what they are doing. Parker doesn’t deal in blacks and whites; everything is rather gray, from motivations to goals and desires, and that keeps it all very interesting. Parker writes what I think of as “smart fantasy.” There are a lot of mind games going on, and with an incredibly intelligent central cast of characters, all of these games are very intellectual with many layers and as many unique goals, aims and perceptions as there are characters.
One of the things I love about Parker is how the back of the book never gives anything away. I never know what is going to happen until it’s happening, and that’s no different with Sharps. I usually try to guess the ending of the books I’m reading, but I gave up doing that a long time ago with Parker’s books. It’s impossible. Chances are, what you think will happen isn’t even part of the plot in the first place. Nothing is what you expect it to be, and Parker masters this with Sharps. With a book as full of intellectual characters with diverse backgrounds and unique goals and aims, the plot is as mysterious as many of the characters, and it’s just as deep.
Sharps is full of action, both physical and mental, as well as mystery, humor and depth. Parker packs this single volume full of some of the most amazing, mentally engaging writing I’ve ever had the honor of reading. The characterization, depth and mystery are unparalleled. Coupled with Parker’s sarcasm and dark humor, Sharps is one of those books that sets the bar incredibly, almost impossibly high. Parker is a unique, refreshing and engaging voice in fantasy. Sharps is one of those books that is sure to amaze.
Mini Interview time! – I had a very hard time thinking of questions to ask, so I came up with some I’m not amazingly proud of. However, I asked them, and K.J. Parker answered. Honestly, this is just about the coolest thing that’s ever happened.
Sarah: Sharps talked a lot about banking, wars and the economy. I couldn’t help but wonder, given our own economic situation(s) did you gather any inspiration for these topics in the book from current events?
K.J. Parker: Oh, you betcha. Folding Knife was my book specifically “about” the banking crisis, just as The Company was “about” Iraq; Sharps is rather more about the Arab Spring than the economy or the war, but just as elements of the war and the economy impinged on events in Egypt and Libya in real life, so in the book. As always, my take on the issues is wildly tangential – what all my books are really about is the characters – but I don’t think I could’ve written Sharps or Folding Knife ten years ago.
Sarah: Every time I read one of your books I spend as much time laughing at the sarcasm in the book as well as lost in thought. Your books do that to me. They seem to be equal parts humor and thought provoking. Sharps is no different. A lot of books are too serious, or too funny, but you seem to tread that line perfectly. Is it hard for you to balance serious topics with some subtle humor like you have done in Sharps and your other books?
K.J. Parker: I like to write about interesting people, and I have difficulty being interested in people who have no sense of humour. When my characters talk to each other, humour therefore inevitably happens; and the way the characters talk to each other sets the tone for the narrative voice. I think I’d find it difficult (make that impossible) not to balance the serious and the funny. The key word, of course, is balance.
Sarah: Family relationships are important in Sharps. Each character either spends a lot of time thinking about their father/mother/spouse/etc, or they are on the fencing journey because of their families, or their relations shaped them in some extreme way (I don’t want to go into too much detail here because I don’t want to give spoilers to potential readers). I find it interesting that family plays such a big role in the events that transpire and the characters themselves but, except for some brief encounters, the reader never really meets any of the protagonist’s important life influences. I would be interested in learning more about why you chose to keep these relationships in the background, but their influence upon characters and events so important.
K.J. Parker: Sharps is essentially a tale of five claustrophobics trapped inside a tour bus; accordingly, we have to keep the camera on them as much as possible. A key part of claustrophobia is the desire to get out of this horrible confined space and back out into the open; home and family represent the open, though of course for at least two of the characters, home and family are as toxic as being in the bus. To that extent, home and family are what shut them up in the bus in the first place.