The Company – K.J. Parker

About the Book
Hoping for a better life, five war veterans colonize an abandoned island. They take with them everything they could possibly need – food, clothes, tools, weapons, even wives.

But an unanticipated discovery shatters their dream and replaces it with a very different one. The colonists feel sure that their friendship will keep them together. Only then do they begin to realize that they’ve brought with them rather more than they bargained for.

For one of them, it seems, has been hiding a terrible secret from the rest of the company. And when the truth begins to emerge, it soon becomes clear that the war is far from over. 

432 pages (paperback)
Published on: September 24, 2009
Published by: Orbit
Author’s website

I have a thing for K.J. Parker. I love how Parker can take mundane themes and make them something unique and thought provoking. I also love how, in the case of The Company, Parker can take something that many people might not think about all that often, and write an entire book about it.
There are myriads of books that deal with war and military matters, but not many go into depth about what happens after the war is over, and the soldiers can go back to a normal life. That’s where The Company is unique among military books. It focuses on the soldiers after the war is over.
The Company is a stand-alone novel, thus it is fairly self-contained, and a good alternative for individuals who found Parker’s Engineer Trilogy to be too slow moving and long. Though, despite the fact that it is a stand-alone novel, it still has many of Parker’s unique touches. It wouldn’t be deserving of having the name K.J. Parker on the cover unless sections of the book went into detail on how to build things, repair things, pan for gold in a river and the such. Another key Parker touch is the somewhat underhanded sarcasm set into a slightly dry narrative.
As usual, Parker writes on many levels. With a novel as slowly unfolding and developing as The Company, readers who are unwilling or unable to dive deeper into Parker’s work may find that The Company is a long book going nowhere. However, those who dive deep into the details of what is happening will be richly rewarded with an interesting study of human nature, friendship and society in general. The Company, on the surface, seems to be a fairly mundane book about people setting out on their own, but under all of that, wrapped in the slow, steady and measured delivery is a fascinatingly thought provoking book studying human nature.
Parker, as I mentioned above, is a dry author with a somewhat underhanded and easy-to-miss sense of sarcasm that has a tendency to pop out and make the reader laugh at unexpected moments. This sarcasm did a wonderful job at making the book pop and making the characters seem more realistic. As usual, there isn’t really a clear “good” or “evil” side of any conflict. Parker excels at writing from the gray zone, where each character is just working from a different perspective that is neither better nor worse than any other perspective.
While this use of the gray zone is something that I, personally, love about Parker, many readers may find that it detaches them from the overall story. It may be harder for individuals to find characters that relate to or care about. This use of the gray zone, coupled with Parker’s tendency to write in a very dry tone can make Parker an acquired taste to many.
Despite that, Parker’s characters are incredibly three dimensional and well rounded. There is no perfect protagonist or handsome evil guy. The characters are all older and scarred from past events, which Parker does go into throughout the chapters. Parker’s cast is surprisingly human, and was, perhaps, one of my favorite parts of the book. They are so shockingly human that readers can’t help but take notice of them.
It is easy to see Parker’s methodical mind unfolding when reading The Company. The plot is slow to develop, but so rigorously measured that the slow development is easy to overlook. Every detail matters and every chapter seems to add another layer and more depth to the overall plot. Thus, The Company functions like a machine with each chapter adding more parts to the whole.
Despite all of the wonderful things The Company contains, it isn’t as good as Parker’s other work. The plot was harder to become emotionally involved in and the characters were harder for me to become attached to. The Company is an interesting and very well written book, but there is a sense of detachment between the reader and the author; a small wedge that keeps the reader from being fully involved in the book as a whole. I never did become fully aware of whether this wedge was due to Parker’s writing style, or the slowly developing plot, or perhaps a mixture of the two.
All in all, The Company is a worthy read and a welcome stand-alone for those who may not enjoy the trilogies that Parker has released. The plot is slowly developing, but thoughtful and deep and functions as intricately as a machine. The characters are incredibly well rounded and surprisingly human. The Company is incredibly detailed, and those details matter. The slow development and slightly dry writing style may serve to disconnect some readers from the book as a whole.
4/5 stars
K.J. Parker on The Company on Orbit’s webpage. 

2 Responses

  • Melissa (My words and pages)

    Sounds like an interesting take on the idea. I like that someone did this. 🙂 Thanks for the great review and introducing me to a great sounding book. 🙂

  • Jared

    "Despite all of the wonderful things The Company contains, it isn’t as good as Parker’s other work. The plot was harder to become emotionally involved in and the characters were harder for me to become attached to"

    Yup. I agree. On an absolute scale, brilliant. Relative to his/her other work, I also thought it was just so-so.

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