Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Devices And Desires Devices And Desires
Engineer Trilogy Book 1
by K. J. Parker

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Stephen Litten

"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." Thus starts Devices and Desires by K. J. Parker. Devices and Desires is the first book of Parker’s Engineer Trilogy, and is set in his own un-named fantastic world. Delightfully, all the actors are human: no elves, dwarves or mythological creatures in sight. Instead, we have two modest mountain duchies, Eremia and Vadania, and one coastal city state, Mezentia, plus a few nomads. Eremia and Vadania are traditional medieval, and are vaguely modelled on Italian duchies. They have recently concluded a peace treaty after years of constant feuding. Mezentia is what happens when engineers run a city, and is ruled by ‘the specification’.

Ziani Vaatzes is on the run, having escaped his execution for breaking specification. All he wants is to be re-united with his wife and daughter. He stumbles into the remains of an Eremian army, defeated by the war machines that he helped build. The Mezentine council decide that Vaatzes must die and, since the Eremians won’t hand him over, declare war on the backward duchy. Vaatzes helps construct war machines to defend Eremia from the mercenary army the Mezentines send to destroy their new enemy.

This book is full of delightful and interesting characters, and not everything proceeds as one might expect. Duke Valens of Vadania carries a torch for the wife of Duke Orsea of Eremia, and carries out a clandestine correspondence with her. He also is the epitome of Machiavelli’s enlightened Prince, keeping his enemies and the reader off balance with wonderfully nuanced responses to the problems besetting him. Orsea is plagued with doubts, having inherited the duchy by marriage. He constantly feels overwhelmed by the task. His able chancellor and probably the most powerful noble in Eremia, Miel Dukas, keeps Eremia running and competently guides Ziani into the world of the nobility. Councillor Psellus of Mezentia is a stolid middle manager, suddenly promoted to the Department of Necessary Evil (the War Commission), and seems to be forever out of the loop.

Devices and Desires is a wonderful read, and kept me enthralled to the end. Oh, and the Mezentines are dark skinned while everyone else are fair.

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