A couple of years ago, I saw someone who doesn’t usually make a fuss about books raving about K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Way to Defend a Walled City. When I saw it on sale, I bought it, but didn’t get around to reading it. And then I saw A Practical Guide to Conquering the World on NetGalley. I thought, this would be a great motivator to actually read a book already on my kindle! Friends, I really wish I had read the first few pages of Walled City when I bought it. I would have saved myself so much time and unpleasantness. I dnf’d that book so fast. But meanwhile, I had this arc sitting on my kindle and I did not want to read it. I have some other arcs on my kindle that I actually do want to read. I dragged myself through A Practical Guide, and I didn’t enjoy it.
By the way, here is the bit that made me close Sixteen Ways and say no thank you to that:
Please note I didn’t come in on the military mail. As Colonel-in-Chief of the Engineers, I’m entitled; but, as a milkface (not supposed to call us that, everybody does, doesn’t bother me, I like milk) it’s accepted that I don’t, because of the distress I might cause to Imperials finding themselves banged up in a coach with me for sixteen hours a day. Not that they’d say anything, of course. The Robur pride themselves on their good manners, and, besides, calling a milkface a milkface is Conduct Prejudicial and can get you court-martialled.
The narrator, an enslaved person, doesn’t mind being called a “milkface” because he likes milk. Nope. Not going to work for me. Please don’t explain to me that this is a fantasy, I am aware.
I admit that I went in already unimpressed. Early on, the narrator, different from the first book, points out that fat people are gross, but this other culture, to which he is indebted for his life, values fatness because it means wealth. Everyone gets a jaundiced treatment in A Practical Guide to Conquering the World. The narrator uses his knowledge of the frailties and stupidity of other people to save his life and the lives of people he considers ignorant barbarians. Right now, I don’t need any help thinking people are awful. And it was just too much cynicism for me. For someone else, this might be an excellent Machiavellian political fantasy novel.
Anyway, I don’t like not liking a book and I’m pretty grumpy about it.
CW: occasional acts of brutality, including castration.
Thank you to Orbit and NetGalley for the advance reader copy. My opinions are my own.