Book 1 of the Engineer's Trilogy : Devices and Desires


K. J. Parker


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 7, 2008

evices and Desires is the story of revenge. The hero of the book is Ziani Vaatzes - a guild engineer who labors in the service of the Mezentian empire. Vaatzes is an excellent engineer, with a skilled hand and a creative mind - he can look at systems and imagine how to improve them. For example, he redesigns the arms of a toy to allow greater range of movement - but this act is an abomination, because redesign violates the approved specified design for that toy. Vaatzes is put on trial - and accused of abomination - how dare he violate the Mezenetian standards? The sentence is death! Vaatzes makes a desperate escape, and flees from the city.

Beyond the borders of Mezentia (but not too far away, because it doesn't seem to take long for armies to cover the intervening distance) are two small Duchies: Vadani (ruled by Duke Valens) and Eremia (ruled by the Duke Orsea). Other than Vaatzes the engineer, these two dukes are the main characters of the book, along with Miel Ducas, the right hand man of the Eremian Duke, Orsea.

I would guess that the author of this book is an engineer, Ms. Parker has apparently done a tremendous amount of research on medevial weapons and armor; her descriptions of "factories" before the industrial revolution are interesting.

This book reminded me of R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series: both are giant fantasy books with creative world building, believable cultures, full of intrigue and warfare. The lead character in both series of books is a brilliant, manipulative, amoral man who will careless throw away lives of anyone, friends and allies included, in order to achieve a desired goal. I really loved the Prince of Nothing series, though I was quite disappointed by the ending. Hopefully, K. J. Parker has a better ending in store for her readers. One difference between the two series is the sense of epic scope - in the Prince of Nothing, a whole world seemed to be involved in the conflict, but in the Engineer's trilogy, everything seems confined to the two small duchies and the Mezentia city. Parker hints at a much larger world outside the boundaries of the story; for example - she describes vast numbers of desert tribesmen, and huge armies of men willing to fight as mercenaries for the Mezentians. Mezentia is called the Perpetual Empire, implying a vast kingdom, even though we only see the capital city of Mezentia.

One big complaint I have with this book - why not include a map? It was unclear to me where all these warring nations are located. Is the Cure Hardy north or south of Eremia? I am still not sure.

Just for fun, I read Devices & Desires by K. J. Parker at the same time I read Rashomon Gate by I. J. Parker. But other than the similarity of the two author's names, there isn't any other connection between the books. I think Devices & Desires was the better book, but I haven't finished Rashomon Gate yet.

Oddly enough, there are five different books currently listed on Amazon's website with the title Device's and Desires. Does the phrase "Devices & Desires" have some special meaning?

I find the cover on this book to be pretty wretched. Why would a publisher try and sell a book with such a dull cover? I looked at the small print in the front of the book, but no credit (or blame) for the cover was awarded. But this curious line appears: "The moral right of the author has been asserted" - what does that mean? It sounds like some fancy copyright clause that I have never noticed in a book before.