Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review: Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K.J. Parker
Publication: April 9th, 2019 | Orbit
Paperback. 350 pages.

About Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City:

"This is the story of Orhan, son of Siyyah Doctus Felix Praeclarissimus, and his history of the Great Siege, written down so that the deeds and sufferings of great men may never be forgotten. 

A siege is approaching, and the city has little time to prepare. The people have no food and no weapons, and the enemy has sworn to slaughter them all. 

To save the city will take a miracle, but what it has is Orhan. A colonel of engineers, Orhan has far more experience with bridge-building than battles, is a cheat and a liar, and has a serious problem with authority. He is, in other words, perfect for the job."

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City is an unexpected book that felt really unparalleled in style to anything I've read recently. I could already tell from the synopsis that this was going to be different from other stories, but I really wasn't sure what to expect from it. The end result was an amusing and creative story with an incredibly snarky and dry-witted protagonist that explores a variety of themes and topics in a really unique way.

The premise of Sixteen Ways itself is fairly simple: Orhan is stuck in a city that is essentially under siege. He ends up assuming responsibility as general of an Empire that he doesn't want to be in and must figure out how to save the city. There is an immense amount of clever, conniving plotting to get things done in the city, as well as a lot of  brute force in how things get done the way Orhan wants.  His career is as an engineer, so to see him being charged with figuring out how to lead a city and how to get people in a tightly political society with a plethora of unspoken rules to do what he wants is a really entertaining experience. Orhan is the sort of character that you don't necessarily want to like because he's not always the greatest person, but you also can't help but like and root for him because of how compelling his narrative is. I had a strong desire to constantly see what he would do next and also for him to be successful in whatever course of action he chose to undertake.  

The format of the story is essentially written as a narrative history told by Orhan himself. Since Orhan is telling it, he's not necessarily the most reliable narrator at all points and I enjoyed how Parker incorporated this unreliable narrator aspect. You can sort of get a feel throughout the novel for what might be exaggerated or not be completely true, but there's still a strong air of intrigue and uncertainty at times that makes the entire story that much more compelling. The ending itself is a little frustrating because it is rather abrupt, but that is partially due to the format of the book sinc Orhan is relaying it and can't only tell what he knows. It's the sort of situation where you wish you knew more, but it also fits the narrative and so you can't be too upset. 

The world-building isn't excessive since the story doesn't demand excessive world-building, but it's still strong enough to give an adequate sense of what the current state of the world is and the basics of how things work. There's also a bit of racial and class conflict present throughout the book at all turns in the narrative which only creates more problems for Orhan as he tries to save the city. I really appreciated how Parker worked in these topics and made them central to the story in a natural and really compelling manner.

Overall, I've given Sixteen Ways four stars! I would definitely recommend this one to anyone looking for something a little new in fantasy, anyone who enjoys the military/engineering side of fantasy, or anyone just look for a quick, compelling read. 

*I received a copy of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City courtesy of Orbit books in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the novel.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound

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