Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K J Parker

This was published in 2019 and I’d heard a couple of people mention it, so I gave it a try. It’s somewhere between historical fiction and fantasy. There are no dragons or magic, but it is set in an entirely fictional world, with an empire and an (initially mysterious) invading army.

The book is narrated by Orhan, a colonel of the engineers’ corps, who is left in charge of the defence of the City, even though he’s the wrong colour and has very little military experience. The best thing about the book is the narrative voice, which is witty and engaging. I kept hearing the voice as actor Anton Lesser playing Falco on BBC Radio. That kind of world-weary, sardonic, fatalistic tone.

But apart from that, I found the book hard to get into. I have read K J Parker before, because he is the prolific Tom Holt; I think I read The Portable Door, but didn’t enjoy it enough to pick up any more. Tom Holt is about a year older than me, but seems to have managed to write an extraordinary number of novels under his various names. The mind boggles.

Why didn’t I warm to this? I never really believed there was anything at stake, and I didn’t find the world building immersive. The whole thing felt wafer thin, but bulked up with the style, which was mainly focused on the voice.

If it had been the summer holiday, I might have devoured it in a couple of days and emerged from it wanting more. But here at this end of the year, I took too long over it, and found it a bit of a chore.

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