Review: Sharps

Posted: October 9, 2012 by in Books We Like (4/5 single_star) Meta: K.J. Parker, Fantasy

Anyone out there like movies that are based on actual historical events? I think there’s something to be said for them, but in general I find that regardless of how much I love them, the endings always end up being particularly less that I had anticipated. This book was totally like that. Steve’s going to love this, because this time around, I totally agree with his overall opinion of Ms. Parker’s latest offering, SHARPS (Amazon): full of unfulfilled promises. I do still disagree that this description applies to the Engineer Trilogy, but in this case, he’s totally spot-on.

SHARPS is another stand-alone from the veritable K.J. Parker, an author whom the reading public still knows so little about. It’s another book about war, and what people are willing to do to get what they want. It’s another book full of sarcasm, and multi-hued characters. It’s another book of swords and mayhem. And if she didn’t write it so dang well, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did.

But I did. Cause, boy, was it fun.

Permia and Scheria have been at war with one another for the last forty years. Their history is chuck-full of battle and death and betrayal and hatred, but the two countries are on the mend now, and in an effort to try and bring closure to the differences between them, to help bring them together instead of driving them further apart, a fencing tournament has been organized, and four of Scheria’s finest have been dispatched on a tour of Permia in which their techniques and skill will be on display. Unfortunately, things don’t exactly turn out for our heroes, our “bringers of peace” so to speak, because there are players in the background that aren’t so keen on seeing peace between the two nations happen at all.

This was rather an intriguing novel, and one that I dove into with a good bit of fervor. I’ve always enjoyed Parker’s novels – haven’t read one that I didn’t like yet – and this one didn’t disappoint. It was full of sarcastic wit and dry, dark humor. I could hardly read for more than several minutes without finding myself laughing along with the story.

SHARPS is a bit of something new from Ms. Parker, as the story focuses upon several characters, instead of just a single one. Giraut is a playboy that has gotten himself into a bit of trouble; Suidas, is a war veteran with a very bloody past; Phrantzes, an aging fencing champion with more than just a little self-esteem problem; Addo, the son of a war hero, the Irrigator, who was responsible for drowning an entire Permian city; and Iseutz, the lonely girl on the team, of which we ultimately learn so very little.

If you're a fan of Parker's stuff, pick up SHARPS. If you're one who gets hung up on "unfulfilled promises" or aren't a fan in general, take a pass.

In the beginning, this host of characters gives a very busy feel to the book, and at times it was difficult for me to distinguish between each of the male characters because of their out-of-the-ordinary names and the fact that all of them fought with swords. Parker has always been good for having unique names, but with the multiple POVs this time around, it became a bit distracting at times.

One of the aspects that I’ve always loved about Parker’s writing is her level of detail and that feeling like I’m just keeping my head above water when it comes to understanding the larger world behind the story and characters of interest. There’s more there behind the story than what I’m reading. This is helped in some small measure by the fact that this story, as well as her others, seem to fall into the same “world”, in fantasy-speak. Even though each of the stories told in her novels are probably spread from each other by large quantities of distance and time, there are bits and pieces that come through occasionally to remind you that they are all indeed connected to one another by something much larger.

The pacing and development of the story were great. As each of the individual characters learn more about one another and each of their histories, the plot thickens. Also, as the fencing team as a whole learns more about the situation that they’re in, and the citizens of Permia respond to events occurring within their own country, we get a larger sense of what is going on, and it made me really excited to get to the end of the book and find out how it’d all play out.

Unfortunately, the ending wasn’t anything like I’d expected. It wasn’t a complete let down, but it was significantly more low-key. More of a this-is-how-everyone-turned-out kind of ending, which is what I’ve come to expect from movies that are based on historical events. Fiction is more exciting, in general, than history, and that’s why I love Fiction! The author gets to decide the ending. And even though the ending of this one was a bit of a disappointment, I still have to recommend the book as a good read. I mean, I still tell everyone how much I loved the movie Valkyrie (Amazon), and the ending of that movie was a complete bummer.

If you’re a fan of Parker’s stuff, pick this one up. It won’t disappoint. If you’re one that gets hung up on the “unfulfilled promises” thing or aren’t a fan of hers in general, take a pass. SHARPS is very much a Parker novel.

  • Recommended Age: 17+
  • Language: Infrequent, but strong
  • Violence: Several injuries by sword and subsequent fixing by doctors, fairly grisly in a few parts
  • Sex: Brief, but somewhat descriptive scene, at the beginning

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