Review: How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It

Posted: March 12, 2021 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: K.J. Parker, Fantasy, Humor

I remember, as a kid, finding out that Ronald Reagan was an actor before he became President of the United States. That really took me for a loop at the time. Mainly because I had this overwhelmingly positive impression of what he’d been able to accomplish as President, and the guy hadn’t even been a politician beforehand? Obviously I’d been missing some of the details of his life between his time acting and when he became President. The story in this book though, is about just such an instance, with no details-missing, where an actor is pulled–almost from the very stage where he made his living–and forced to play the part of the leader of the Robur Empire.

And is this actor able to succeed in not only playing that part true, but leaving a positive impression upon his people as well?

The title of the book might give you the clue.

HOW TO RULE AND EMPIRE AND GET AWAY WITH IT is the second book in Parker’s recent series named “The Siege”, and tells some of the tale of the siege of the capitol city of the Robur Empire by another up-and-coming Empire that doesn’t like them very much. The Robur have been in power for a good long time, and like any Empire, have made a lot of enemies along the way. The new Emperor of the milk-faces is one of those enemies, and he’s cast himself wholesale into the thick of the fray by declaring that every last Robur in the world is going to die by his hand, if he has anything to say about it.

And so, the siege of this, the last city of the Robur Empire has gone on for years. Seven, at the time of this telling, and like any good siege has had its back and forths. The main issue as to why it has gone on so long is because of the great might of the Robur Empire’s navy and the fact that The City backs up against a mighty sea. Thus, the Robur are able to continue to survive by trading with other nations small and large, but every year the Robur plight gets worse as the catapults and trebuchets of the enemy come ever closer to killing them. This situation, of course, gets considerably worse, when the Emperor of the Robur is randomly squashed by a catapulted stone, and Notker, the “hero” of our story, is snatched off the streets and made to take his spot, because, quite simply, he looks almost exactly like the previous guy.

Another chapter of The City under siege that is every bit as humorous and fun and melancholy as any other of KJ Parker's books.

I love KJ Parker’s books, but I understand that they’re not for everyone. They make me laugh for so many reasons, and as I’ve mentioned in other places, I love anything that can grab me by “the heart, the throat, or the funny bone”. This book, like many of his others, has a conversational tone that is easy to read and pulls me in like very few authors can. Unlike most of my fantasy reads, I never expect that there will anything overtly fantastical in them, which seems like something of a conundrum. The author just doesn’t much care for those fantastical elements, and he writes such a good yarn, that I find I don’t miss them all that much. So, while I might complain elsewhere about stories that don’t conform to my expectations when it comes to those fantastical elements, none of that applies here. Call it a quirk of mine. I’m complicated.

The world in which Parker writes is one very similar to ours, but has never advanced into anything like a technological age. Most of his books these days are all told from within this “fantasy” world and are riddled with the made-up histories and varied instances of empires, and rulers, and peoples, and sub-stories that make this all feel real. In this one, the main character is a bit of a step back from the typical fare, as Notker is an actor instead of some kind of engineer or forger. Still a liar though, yes, as most of his characters need to be to play their part. This does mean though that the details that typically rise in these stories about building things and the manipulation of money are somewhat glossed over. Instead, the large portion of the story is told through the glass of the actor and tells us: how to entertain the people, how to unfold the story, and what a rangy beast a free-willed people can so often be. Thus, not only humor can be found within these page, but sadness and heartache and melancholy as well.

And as a follow-up to my comments about SIXTEEN not having a very satisfying ending, the ending of this one was absolutely brilliant. Love, love, loved it. Just finished reading it about an hour ago, and I’m still getting shivers thinking about it.

In the end, this is KJ Parker doing what he does best: telling great story. I should have read this one sooner–was published just more than 6 months ago–as it’s given me a bit of a jump start. Reminded me just how much I love reading the stuff that I love reading. Reminded me that there are still great things to read out there. Given me a bit of the “Hope” that the end of the book speaks of so eloquently.

As always, looking forward to the next to come from the mind of this great author.

  • Recommended Age: 13+, mostly for language
  • Language: Infrequent and varied with semi-regular F-words
  • Violence: Bullying, assassination attempts, and talk of some large-scale death
  • Sex: A few brief references


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