“‘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.’”
The defection of a high-ranking military engineer sets off a Renaissance-level arms race in this dark, detailed fantasy, the first book of the Engineer trilogy.
Ziani Vaatzes makes weapons. Extremely efficient weapons, exactly to spec, and as a good citizen of Mezentia, he isn’t allowed to make them any differently. In fact, the Mezentine belief in not deviating from spec is so draconian that Vaatzes commits a capital crime when he makes some improvements to his daughter’s toy. Fleeing a death sentence, he leaves behind a beloved wife and child and escapes Mezentia only to run straight into a battle—his countrymen versus nearby Civitas Eremiae, headed by the well-meaning if ineffectual Duke Orsea. Orsea and the Eremians never stood a chance against superior Mezentine technology. How extremely timely, then, when Vaatzes offers to teach the surviving Eremians to build their own army-slaughtering devices. Is he selling his country’s secrets in simple revenge? Or is it going to be an extremely complicated revenge?
The inscrutable, calculating Vaatzes is not exactly our hero. He has a disturbing tendency to view people as components of machines. Some of the other cogs in his machine, I mean, characters in this novel, are the charming Miel Ducas, Orsea’s best friend and loyal second-in-command, who has to do 90% of the thinking but gets neither the credit nor the girl, and the girl, Orsea’s wife Veatriz, who is engaged in secret correspondence with the ruler of Eremia’s other traditional enemy, whom she met during her girlhood as a “professional hostage.” The real linchpin of the story is a woman we barely meet—Vaatzes’s wife, our novel’s Helen of Troy, for whose sake enormous engines of war are being maneuvered into place.
It’s the quirky tone that made this book for me. The countries may resemble medieval-to-Renaissance Europe, but the idiom is quite contemporary, and the characters glib and self-mocking. Parker writes like an engineer, supplying convincing details on all the practical aspects of armor, weaponry, fencing, metal smithing, and boar hunting. I enjoyed the cynical characters, drily funny narration, and a good, solid, city siege with catapults and battering rams. On to book two, to see what happens next.
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