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on 5 July 2010
Before The Folding Knife, I'd never read a K. J. Parker novel. I'd nearly taken the plunge on a few - the Engineer trilogy in particular had appealed to me - but the diversity of opinions on each of Parker's publications stayed my hand. People bandy about the "love it or hate it" label more often, I think, than they should; usually it'd be closer to the truth to say they either adore or mildly dislike a thing. And yet with Parker, the range of reactions does indeed seem to err on the aforementioned extremes. Rarely do you come upon an author whose work can be described as superb on one hand and deathly dry on the other. Long story short: I came to The Folding Knife with some reservations. Two sittings later, I'm glad I didn't let them stop me.

Bassianus Severus is either the greatest First Citizen the Republic has ever had, or incredibly, extraordinarily lucky. The economy turns on his dime; he wins wars so effortlessly you'd be forgiven for thinking the result an accident; the Vesani people of the believe he's a leader of the little guy. His private life, however, is a shambles. Basso is a lonely man: his best friend is his father's former slave, his wife a duplicitous piece of work. He loves his sister more than anyone else in the world: she, meanwhile, has made it her life's work to make trouble for the First Citizen at every turn. Basso's only confidant is his estranged nephew, whose father he murdered, and whose murder he got away with, years before he took office. His entire administration is like a house of cards. One gust of wind and it'll all come crashing down. What better time, then, for the perfect storm to appear on the horizon?

Parker is an assiduously clever author, and his latest is as packed full of the same intellectual concerns I'm given to understand many of his other novels have hinged on: the politics, society and economy of a fantasy world not too far removed from our own. Hardly the most exiting mix of ingredients to spin a speculative yarn from, perhaps, yet I find myself struggling to sympathise with those readers who find themselves disenfranchised by The Folding Knife and its predecessors, because this book is anything but dull. Unless the subject matter itself is enough to put such people off, what waits within these pages is a whirlwind of wit and wonderment. Largely thanks to a central character that always keeps you on your toes and his snappy, doublethink dialogue with an excellent supporting cast, Parker manages to make even politics fun - no mean feat.

There's a sense of inexorable forward motion to The Folding Knife that makes it an easy and undemanding read. We don't question whether or not Basso's luck will turn because the narrative begins at the end, with the First Citizen after his downfall. When linear chronology reasserts itself, readers are left wondering when, not if, it'll all fall apart. In the interim, Basso is a fantastic protagonist to spend the time with. There's always more going on with him that you think: he's smart, forthright and conniving. He has a wicked sense of humour that'll have you guffawing into your coffee. Dry, dark and deadpan, Basso is hilariously irreverent and unimaginably clever. Except that's he got a long fall ahead of him, you never know what's next on the First Citizen's agenda. All you can be sure of is that you're going there with him, and fast. This book, you see, is paced like a hundred metre sprint. It's lightning quick out of the gate, furiously fast when it crosses the finishing let, and it rarely lets up in between.

That said, there's no real action to speak of. Readers who demand extended fight scenes from their fiction will find themselves stymied by The Folding Knife. The action herein, such as it is, tends to take the form of animated parliamentary debates, horse shortages and the occasional assassination attempt. In Parker's hands, however, such seemingly dry subjects come alive; they're as exhilarating, in their way, as any massive battle. The only real issue I have with The Folding Knife is that Basso's perspective is a touch too restrictive; you never get a sense of the larger Vesani republic except through his jaded eyes. Which is a shame, because what little of the city and its surrounding environs we do see begs for more in-depth exploration.

Otherwise, The Folding Knife is a very fine novel indeed. Intelligent and darkly comic, full of surprises and pacey as a runaway trail, it represents a great time waiting to be had for those readers who can stomach the superficially discouraging subject matter. Basso is a fantastic character I suspect I'll remember long after the particular quirks of leads from other, more prominent genre affairs are as so much dust in the desert to my memory. As I said at the outset, The Folding Knife was my first K. J. Parker. It won't be my last.
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VINE VOICEon 14 December 2010
If, like me, you've become jaded with fantasy - you don't much care for magic, long journeys, dwarves etc. and have no care for extreme violence or gratuitous bad language, then this book will restore your belief. I'd never tried KJ Parker before - wow! what a discovery! I haven't enjoyed a book so much in ages. It's well-written and has intriguing characters. I found myself thinking at various times of Lady Macbeth [appears a soft touch compared with Basso's sister!] and Tony Blair [OK you need to read it....]. As for the 'mistake' the cover mentions, I've only just finished the book and am still wondering what exactly it was, which is interesting. And for all his faults, I couldn't help liking Basso very much. It's a different kind of fantasy I guess - the nearest I can think of is 'Song of Ice and Fire' which to my mind would be praise indeed. Political chicanery, deceit but with more than a bit of humanity, it's convincing and satisfying; I recommend it wholeheartedly.
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on 5 July 2010
For the record, I'm pretty sure my glowing opinion of KJ Parker is well-documented in other reviews.

The Folding Knife isn't new territory for this talented & enigmatic author: an ambitious, Machiavellian man has sweeping plans for the world, but must overcome human weakness to achieve them. The setting is a "generic" medieval/fantasy world, populated with vague analogues of Roman and Byzantine cultures.

As a single volume, The Folding Knife just doesn't have all the room it needs - there's an epic story in here, but it is told very quickly. Brilliant, but feels like the Reader's Digest version of the (even more brilliant) Engineer Trilogy. I greedily wish, like with The Company, Parker would've explored slightly newer ground.

Still highly recommended: my main (and only) criticism is that I like Parker's other work even more.
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Bassianus Severus - known to the people as Basso - is the First Citizen of the Vesani Republic. He is politically savvy, financially creative, ruthlessly ambitious and very lucky. As his power and prestige grows, so does the rift between him and his sister, and the battle for the loyalty of her son.

The Folding Knife is the eleventh novel by the enigmatic K.J. Parker, a stand-alone book which is not part of any series. Fourteen years ago I picked up Parker's debut novel, Colours in the Steel, and later its two sequels and enjoyed them enormously. I've missed out on her books since then, which is something I'll have to rectify. The Folding Knife is outstanding.

This is the story of a man's life, or rather a twenty-year slice of it, but mostly focusing on the three years after he becomes First Citizen of the Republic. Basso grows up learning the family trade of banking, and through canny deals and excellent advice he soon becomes one of the richest men in the city. He then moves into politics, using his common touch with the people and his skills of persuasion and blackmail with the nobility to become the ruler of the Republic. He even has a long-term plan for the entire nation: to strengthen its borders and increase its resources against the threat of competing kingdoms jealous of Vesani's growing military and economic might.

Basso plays the Republic like an instrument, working out how to make the people and politicians jump to his tune. However, as the story unfolds Basso's inability to mend the feud with his sister or make foreign powers likewise obey the rules he sets out both become dangerous, leading to more desperate gambles. There's a strong economic spine to the book, with Parker successfully showing how expensive it is to run a large kingdom even without trying to fund major wars. In fact, I'm wondering if the economic storyline is a commentary on the current financial crisis, with Basso's self-justifications and ability to conjure money out of nowhere to keep things going just a bit longer being more than slightly reminiscent of recent news stories on the banks and national governments almost going bankrupt.

Basing the story on economics could be deathly dull, but Parker's well-paced writing, solid characterisation and dry sense of humour keeps things ticking along nicely. Basso is a well-written protagonist, monstrously flawed but also sympathetic, with his genius at handling money and politics contrasted against his disastrous relationships and his empty personal life. Basso's story is something of a tragedy then, but one with more than its fair share of humour and ingenuity. Also, by Parker's standards it's not that dark or disturbing (there's no Belly of the Bow 'moment' of unexpected ultraviolence here), though her twisted sense of humour remains intact. She also reigns in her tendency to interrupt the story for a three-page digression on the best way to build trebuchets (though there is one detailed explanation of how to use a scorpion - a piece of field artillery - as a stealthy assassination weapon, but this is quite funny so fair enough).

This is a strong novel with only a few brief but well-described moments of action, with the focus being on political and economic intrigue. Intriguingly, whilst set in an (unmapped) secondary world, there is no magic or mysticism in the novel at all, but this lack is barely felt.

As for criticisms, the tight focus on Basso means we don't get much of a sense of the Republic or the wider world beyond his own views on it, but that's the point of the story, I suppose. The ending is also perhaps a little underwhelming (and whilst it's not the first in a series, the ending is open enough to allow for a later sequel, if necessary). The reasons for Basso's sister's hatred of him are also under-explored, since we don't have any POV chapters from her. Finally, there are moments when things go as clockwork and Basso finds things going all his way that feels a little too clinical and not allowing for the unpredictability of human actions, but the latter part of the novel repays that in spades, so that's not too much of a problem.

The Folding Knife (****½) is an engrossing, page-turning economic and political thriller, executed with finesse by one of our best (but possibly most underrated) fantasists. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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on 16 April 2011
This book moves quickly from one piece of action to another with a variety of different events pushing characters along.

Basso is an interesting character; he is smart, ruthless and amusing.
The other characters are two dimensional but there are a lot of them.

Basso's motivation is understandable if not entirely believable.

The one problem with the book is that it is very much more of the same.
Parker's previous books were very good and more of the same should be a good thing but it isn't in this case since it isn't simple style that is repeated but plot and characters too.

Many of the elements in the story are so close to parts of his previous books it feels lazy.
The ending, in particular, reads like a dose of deja-vu.
If you haven't read anything else by Parker this is probably a good book to start, but as someone who has read all the others it felt like a greatest hits rather than a new novel.
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KJ Parker is a serious writer but in this book the author relaxes and has a little fun. This is wink to the reader fun as we get a lighter side of fantasy (and this is fantasy with a very small F) and see leadership, politics and economics from the perspective of Bosso, First Citizen of a Republic. Bosso is a very clever man, forced to kill his brother-in-law and his wife and making an enemy he can't bare to destroy.
It is a bit different and enjoyable for that as we see a master manipulator take a long term vision and gamble everything on the right outcome.
It is clever and intelligent stuff, very enjoyable and probably my favourite book from Parker so far....
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 April 2014
This is a fantasy story focused entirely on politics. I read it aloud and enjoyed it, as did my audience. However, I agree with the comments others have made that it lacks a bit of substance and feels like a Readers Digest version, or a summary, of what should have been an epic.

The politics is told mostly through the thought processes of the main politician, which makes it a bit like a lesson in Machiavellianism and sometimes makes the writing feel amateurish. Nevertheless, it is an interesting story with interesting characters and some of the writing is excellent.
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on 2 January 2012
This book is not fantasy at all - no magic, monsters, super-warriors or non-humans. However, it reads (IMHO) like a very good fantasy novel, and to me, at least, channels the feel of the "can't lose" business deals of Bug and Tehol Beddict (from Steven Erikson) without the slapstick or high comedy.
Very, very readable, and one of the best I have read for a good while. Wholly recommended
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on 17 August 2011
For anyone who has read Parker, this story will be familiar. A central character around whom the plot develops, secondary characters that lack a bit of substance and a story which rounds off in reasonable fashion. You could do worse in a stand-alone fantasy novel, but better would not be too diffcult either.
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Over the recent years, one name is coming up consistently time and again with quality fantasy writing, and that's KJ Parker. Whilst masquerading behind a pseudonym this established author really does bring everything to the table, you've got great characters, top quality dialogue and above all else a story arc that keeps the reader glued from the first to the last page. Add to the mix character growth and a world that you can believe in with double dealing and politics and it really is a well rounded self supporting novel. Great stuff.
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