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3.9 out of 5 stars16
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 19 June 2005
As an fond science fiction / fantasy reader, I enjoyed this book immensely (I should add this is my first K J Parker novel, so I may not have sufficient experience to notice the formulaic nature mentioned by those who have read all the author's works). Parker manages the traditional problem found in such works rather well, this being the difficult task of fleshing out the new world created and explaining all the little details necessary to fully understand the plot, without simultaneously slowing the plot to a crawl in order to make room for the potted histories and observations - on those occasions where there is significant slowdown, the supplementary information is always interesting enough for this not to cause annoyance. The book is a satisfying length but sufficiently engrossing overall not to feel over-long. I also found a good balance between personal character interactions and observations on the larger interactions between whole societies, so that the reader finds himself empathising equally well with individual protagonists (on all sides), and with the political clashing of the various factions. There are no cardboard cut-out villains or heroes to be found here. Some characters can perhaps seem rather single-minded sometimes, but one must remember the nature of most of the cultures described - a non-technological society has comparatively little real need for lateral thinking or creativity, so tradition holds more sway and keeps things running the same way time and again, and for the reasons explained in the text the society of the engineers is also held rigid by tradition.
As an engineer, I found the Mezentine (engineer's) society in the novels fascinating - true engineering is rarely given proper recognition, in many English-speaking countries at least, and for many the word "engineer" is erroneously synonymous with a fellow who wears filthy blue overalls, carries a huge greasy spanner and drops his aitches. In this novel, Parker really makes the effort to show the intense mental effort & mindset necessary for the successful engineer, and how it can easily rival that of the more well known "difficult" professions - the military strategist, the politician, etc, although the book's protagonist does still have great skill in the realm of tools, stock and swarf.
To have created the notion of a society where the engineers are regarded more highly than anyone else is in itself fascinating, but more so is the apparently perverse, dogmatic opposition to innovation held by this society. At first, this would appear nonsensical to anyone, but on second thought one begins to wonder whether our own, completely unrestricted pursuit of new technology is realy the only way to go - technology sometimes seems to change so fast one ends up spending almost constantly in order to keep up with new technology as old standards are forgotten and cast aside - how does this effort compare to that expended using a imperfect or outdated, but otherwise workable technology? Many other such issues arise in the course of this book, and the more philosophically minded reader will find a whole extra level to engage with this book in addition to it being highly inventive science-fiction and an engrossing story.
Despite being the first part of a trilogy, Devices & Desires has a good ending - all plot threads that one would expect to be tied up are, but there is still plenty of open-endedness left in the story to drive the next two books forward. Upon finishing one gets the feeling one might have after completing a particular era in a history volume - the unit is discrete and satisfying in isolation, but one still feels the urge to read further, either the next day or years later. Compare this to certain other sagas where each book provides too much closure, and every succeeding volume has to work hard to reopen the story and draw the reader back in.
I look forward to the next volume in this series!
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on 27 November 2013
I agree with the comments by London below although its probably worth more than 1 star. I got 34% in before I gave up which is better than usual for fantasy - which I like in theory but frequently find disappointing in practice. I agree there is a lot of pointless dialogue which drives neither plot nor reveals anything about the characters which are rather shallow. The dialogue and relationships are so casual as to be unbelievable i.e. dukes speak to flunkies as if they are beer buddies rather than subordinates. I know its fantasy but even so.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 28 February 2016
Not sure where I heard of this first book in the "Engineer Trilogy" or what about it compelled me to try it out, but I'm very glad I did. First things first though: the book is marketed and billed as fantasy, but I'm not really sure why. It's set in a medieval-style world, but there's no magic, everyone's human, and other than wacky character names, there are really no fantasy genre elements at all.

Instead, the book is crammed with realistic (or at least realistic sounding) details about swordsmanship, hunting, and most of all, manufacturing. Perhaps most interesting of all, there are no clear cut heroes and villains -- instead, there are characters acting according to their natures and interests, which may drive them to desperate (possibly even heroic) acts. The story takes place within three neighboring nations, two relatively small city-state/Duchies who've had on-again, off-again wars over the years, and their technologically advanced mercantile trading partner Mezentia. The latter is run by a giant bureaucracy, and the state runs on principles of efficiency, rationality, and clear standards. When a foreman of one of the ordnance factories transgresses the standards in his private life, this proves to be the butterfly wings flapping that lead to war hundreds of miles away.

This engineer has been sentenced to death but manages against all odds to escape and find himself in a situation where he might just be able to engineer a reunion with his family. Indeed, the plot is very carefully engineered and reads like a complex 3D puzzle that's being slowly solved, chapter by chapter. In some senses it's a very cold and mechanical book, even as the author tries to build up the humanity of the other main protagonists (the leaders of the two Duchies). The mix of carefully constructed plot, obsessive detail regarding clothing and armor, arcane engineering jargon, bloody battle scenes, and odd little bits and pieces of humor (for example, a two page digression about the legal dispute over who is responsible for the extra costs incurred by a fleet of mercenaries showing up a week early is a hilarious deadpan riff on contract law), make for a somewhat strange stew -- which might be why I liked it so much. To be sure, it requires some major suspension of disbelief and willingness to overlook coincidences required for the plot, but I got so sucked in that I didn't care at all. Eagerly moving on to the next in the series.
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the first volume in a trilogy of fantasy novels. This runs for seven hundred pages. and ends on some big cliffhangers.

But you know what? I don't mind! I love big long fantasy trilogies that I can really get my teeth into, and this is one such. The world of this story is a typical feudal setting with no technology, but there's no magic and no elves, just humans. and a fair bit of machinery.

And that's the key to the plot. when an engineer in one country with a nasty government is sentenced to death for a minor offence, he escapes, and falls in with the defeated army of another country. can he help them to victory? Or does he have something more in mind?

A real hang on a minute moment when you realise there's more to the main character's actions than meets the eye, and a book that had been quite compelling before, thanks to decent prose and appealing characters, becomes totally compelling as a result. I devoured this as quickly as I could, and I'll get the sequels as soon as I can. I want to know what happens next, and I found this a very good and very readable book. great stuff
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on 25 July 2005
OK so it's the same K J Parker doing much the same sort of thing, but boy is he good at it. In the scavenger trilogy there was a master plan, but noone beleived it was there and we weren't privy to it, here you can see it all panning out as it goes along but still get left wondering what the hell will happen next.
What make Parker's writing different and such an amazingly fun read is the cynical commentry from the characters on how ridiculous life, war and politics are. This make it very easy to identify with all the main character because they realise that life is a joke, a truly rare thing in fantasy.
So prepare to laugh and prepare to think because K J Parker is like noone you've ever read before. And if you think that it's much the same as the first two trilogies, then consider how similar all the rest of fantasy is and you may find that there is still plenty of room for Parker to explore before this library of intelligent farces gets boring!
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on 14 June 2005
OK - anyone who's read the Fencer or Shadow books will immediately feel at home here. KJ Parker lays out the different factions deftly and sets up the protagonists in her usual style; her characterisation might be heavy-handed and formulaic, but at least it is to her own formula!!!
Whereas I might wish she wouldn't semaphore the different characteristics quite so plainly (the engineer, who can turn everything (and one) into a device; the Duke who can apply the rules of hunting to deal with problems etc etc)I do like her creations so my grumbling is subdued.
The story rattles along and has enough action to make you want to keep reading to find out what happens next. I really felt for some of those poor mercenaries!
I predict like the two previous trilogies it will be "two books stretched out to three" for marketing reasons but will still be a MUST HAVE for the intelligent fantasy reader. Enjoy!
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on 23 March 2013
Be warned, this is not George RR Martin. Superficial characters, endless-pointless conversations and page filling stuff that does not drive the story, and (in my eyes) does not add anything to the atmosphere either. Flat story dragging on slowly and boringly, casual language that erodes the illusion of a fantasy environment. Really struggled to but thought I would fight my way through to see where it goes. Well, nowhere. Definitely giving a miss to the follow up books.
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on 7 June 2014
Intrigue gets you to the end but at times it seems to take too long in getting there. Will probably read the next book after a break. Some interesting vocabulary.
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on 2 July 2010
It's a great love story with very well drawn characters in a historically believable alternative reality to our own. Oddly (for a female writer) the male characters are far more interesting than the female ones, but then in the various civilisations interplaying all are patriachies with traditional ideas of romantic love so its a realistic presentation.
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on 13 June 2013
Fabulous - witty, clever, well thought through, very 'real'. The cover is a really good reflection of the contents! Elegant and carefully considered.

If you like Rothfuss' King Killer Chronicles, Hobb's Farseeer trilogy, The Song of Ice and Fire's political wrangling and power struggles (not the battles, dragons and 'others' bits) and Pullman's His Dark Materials then this is up your street. It isn't elves and dragons, its a very recognisable universe that holds together logically.

I remember reading Robin Hobb saying that she needed to believe that the fantasy world could function - what the economy was, the agricultural system and so on. I totally agree which is why I didn't enjoy Gardens of the Moon. it wasn't that book's number of characters and lack of backstory that put me off, but it was just a series of fights and battles and there was nothing to make the 'world' it all took place in plausible, there was no feeling that the backdrop to all the action was three d.

Here it's the opposite, violent action yes, but not described over pages and pages, and balanced by clever plotting, both by the author and the characters. Resentment to economic dominance, an industrial society vs agrarian and so on. All felt very real.

Oh, and it is laugh-aloud-funny. I bought books two and three after the first 100 pages of book one. And I shall contentedly munch through his (or is it her?) other work I really hope with as great pleasure - if it as consistently good.
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