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Devices and Desires (2005)

by K. J. Parker

Series: Engineer Trilogy (1)

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9073316,742 (3.76)32
When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance - one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others ... In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker's embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion - his devices and desires.… (more)
Recently added bymiyyu, ChaseBolling, private library, williamhoy, Lutholtz, Damiella, zardox, hypatian_kat
  1. 10
    Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb (NovaStalker)
    NovaStalker: Both books that have no feel good quality about them at all. If you finish them and their respective series and don't hate life, love, everyone and want to kill yourself you're either incredibly well adjusted or a sociopath. That's a recommendation.
  2. 11
    The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (Sedorner)
    Sedorner: While The Engineer Trilogy is nowhere near as bloody as The First Law trilogy, it's just as dark, deep and "realistic".
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» See also 32 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Like Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, this is a story about an engineer in a military setting. Ziani Vaatzes is an engineer in the Ordnance Factory of the Mezentine Republic. He falls foul of the Guild by improving on Specification - which is an abomination - when making a mechanical doll for his daughter. Escaping, he falls in with the retreating army of the Eremians - who have been massacred by massed scorpion fire by the Mezentines and accompanies them back home. Here he ends up designing scorpions for them - knowing that the Mezentines will be hunting him down and massacring anyone harbouring him. This is the story of the siege of the Duchy of Eremia and what happened.

I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other - it seemed much slower, probably because it's book 1 of a trilogy. I also wasn't rooting for the lead character either - I found him coming across as a bit of a self-righteous prig, trying to justify his actions, and basically deciding nothing was his fault - it was all inevitable. It's also quite a brutal story, so it might not be to everyone's taste.

Recommended with reservations.
  Maddz | Jan 21, 2020 |
When Tom Holt uses his K. J. Parker heteronym, at his best, is a very good genre writer: which is not to say that genre writers can't be as good as (if not better than) their literary counterparts - but they have not been taken as seriously, which is true even now. I must admit I found Gene Wolfe's work to be good too, rather than something to be proselytised for, or raved about. Moorcock's essay "Epic Pooh" is a good analysis in some respects (though perhaps influenced by Terry Eagleton et al, and Marxist Lit-Crit in general) and admits the fact the LOTR writing is at least accomplished. Of Moorcock's work "The Dancers at the End of Time" series is both funny and readable and "The Condition of Muzak" to me seems still his best. Folk finding Peake to be overwritten just proves what sort of literary world we now inhabit: Orwell's plain English has come back to bite us on our collective arse, and we can no longer cope with sentences with sub clauses, or paragraphs full of metaphor via elision. Oh, well. It's just that when folk write stuff like "The Book of the New Sun" is the best fantasy ever written, I must assume that they haven't read much to compare it to, genre fantasy or otherwise. No doubt all shall be well in the ground of our beseeching, if that's the phrase I'm stretching for.

Much modern fantasy suffers from a need to be perceived as dark, and combined with a desire to out-epic the competition it's led to something of a sameness in the huge-number-of-mutilated-dead count, tougher-than-the-last-tough-guy hyperinflation, and characters flawed by their amorality or brutality (Staveley comes to mind). Parker maintains a personal scale, even though world-changing events (though his worlds always have a sparseness to them - rarely any heaving multitudes), and his characters are flawed by their vulnerabilities. There's darkness aplenty - I find more horror in his themes of erasure or corruption of identity than in how many hundreds of thousands of anonymous bodies line roads to cities (Baker, Staveley, Ryan, Cameron, etc.). This approach pays dividends in his mastery of character development. His books follow anything but an expected path - unexpected events shape characters in entirely unforeseen ways, and while that can lead to great emotional investment on the part of the reader, Parker can be bruisingly unsentimental. That’s why I say fantasy is the progressive rock of literature. It has its ardent fans who champion its cause in the face of utter derision from critics. It has its fair share of pretentious tosh but there are nuggets of excellence to be found if you look hard enough with an open enough mind, a bit like its sister, science fiction. Another factor in fantasy's 'rehabilitation' that might be worth exploring is the prevalence of fantasy in computer and video games. Why does that work so much better than, say political fiction? Anyway, from someone who has read SF (science Fiction and Fantasy) for over 30 years, I’m still surprised we can still find writers writing non-magic fantasy. I like prog rock too, naturally, but that's another story... Parker is a peerless creator of genuinely unearthly mindscapes.

The other great thing about K. J. Parker is that even with his fantasy potboilers he still entertains me with his florid use of language, the weird and wonderful names, and the little details he drops into his stories, products of his wild imagination that elevate even the most mundane tales.

SF = Speculative Fiction. ( )
1 vote antao | May 10, 2018 |
With a long trip looming, I was hunting for the perfect book: something with engaging characters, brilliant world-building and a plot I could really get my teeth into. Fate must have been listening, because it brought me face to face with this unassuming-looking volume. For the last week, this has been my constant companion: a deliciously rich tale of intrigue and vengeance; love, loyalty and friendship; and clashing cultures. It’s shelved under fantasy because it takes place in a place not registered on any map of our world, but there isn’t a speck of magic in it. Anchored in technological experimentation and political strife, this is a superb story of human ambition – and how one small act can ripple out to bring down civilisations and change history for ever.

One note of warning: I really wouldn't bother with this if you demand nice, wholesome heroes, because that's not Parker's business. He does, however, create two fabulously Machiavellian antiheroes, one much more of an antihero than the other, but both sitting happily in the vicinity of sociopathy. I noticed with interest that this perceived lack of a moral compass troubled some people on LibraryThing. Personally, I'm all for antiheroes and am a big fan of Machiavelli, so I was happy as a pig in clover. And I can't wait to read the next one...

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2017/04/07/devices-and-desires-k-j-parker/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Apr 7, 2017 |
I just can't. I got about 150 pages in and just can't continue. I'm bored out of my mind and every time I pick it up I go to sleep. Hell, every time I think about reading it, I get sleepy.

I just couldn't connect to anyone enough to care about what happens.
  GoldenDarter | Sep 15, 2016 |
Devices and Desires is set in a fantasy world that seems comparable to our middle ages. Ziani is an engineer from Mezentia, where rules abound and being inventive is frowned upon. He has wonderfully inventive ideas, and because of them he finds himself in jail for a 'specifications violation'. Worried for his family, he escapes and starts on an adventure into other lands. One thing that struck me about this book is that everyone, but especially Ziani, has a plan. The thing is, you only get to see the plans bit by bit as they become relevant to the story. Everyone is using everyone as a part of their plan, and everyone is in the dark about what the plan is - most of all the reader. Every time you think you know why someone is doing something, they do something new that completely throws you off. And Ziani is known to talk about how he thinks people and events will fit nicely into his plan, even though the reader doesn't know what his plan is. It is a book that keeps you guessing, and keeps you reading to find out more.
  GretchenLynn | Apr 12, 2016 |
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"The quickest way to a man's heart," said the instructor, "is proverbially through his stomach.  But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket."
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When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance - one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others ... In a compelling tale of intrigue and injustice, K. J. Parker's embittered hero takes up arms against his enemies, using the only weapons he has left to him: his ingenuity and his passion - his devices and desires.

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