Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Folding Knife The Folding Knife
by K. J. Parker

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Stephen Litten

"Even great men make mistakes," proclaims the cover of K. J. Parker’s The Folding Knife. So true. The story starts with a prologue entitled Forty Years Later. Basso is riding on the roof of a coach. He has just lost the one possession he’s always had, the eponymous folding knife. By inference, he has lost a great deal else besides. Chapter one returns to the "start" of the story, with Basso being born and the gradual linking of his life, his sister’s and various other characters along the way.

With that delicious declaration on the cover, I kept wondering what his one mistake was: marrying his idiot wife? Killing his brother-in-law? Marrying his second wife? Basso’s father is a politician cum banker-merchant in the Vesani Republic, and aspires to be First Citizen, a position that takes a lot of money to achieve. You have to spend a lot to bribe rich men to vote for you. Basso senior has one redeeming quality, luck. Basso the son has both luck and brains. He improves the fortunes of first the family bank, then the Vesani Republic. Finally, he leverages it all attempting to grow the Republic into an empire.

Most of his choices are explained after they occur, by Basso himself: either explaining it to some idiot relative, or celebrating with his cronies, for want of a better word. His sister becomes his nemesis when he kills in self-defence her husband, caught in flagrante with Basso's wife. As this happens early enough in the book, this isn't a spoiler. She even arranges at least two attempts on his life, both nearly successful. But death comes in many forms in the medieval world, and murder is only one of them. Plague, falling trees and cow manure are all agents of death.

This is set in the same world as the Engineer trilogy, but miles away from that action. The Vesani Republic is an Italian city state, either Venice or Genoa, and its mundane adventures in a wider world. That Parker doesn’t feel the need to introduce magic, demi-humans or other deus ex machina makes for a stronger fantasy. Now to hunt down more from this boy. Read.

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