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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 13 July 2016
This carries on where the last book left off, Bardas is no longer in the centre of things but he still appears pivotal.

We get to meet the whole Loredan family with Gorgas in particular taking centre stage for large parts of the story, most of the key characters from the previous book are here again still connected to Bardas.

This keeps the laid-back style of the first book with plenty of humour. The characters are likeable and quirky, the politics is written with a very high level of cynicism and the action is never over done.

We do get the see Bardas in a different light here, his relationship with his younger brother is difficult and in the end he stops being the hapless but likeable hero and becomes more like Gorgas.

The ending is exceptional; bizarre, over the top and certainly unforgettable.
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on 6 September 2000
After reading Colours in the Steel, I went straight out and ordered the next volumes in the trilogy. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what to make of the second volume and am a little afraid of opening the third. Not wanting to give away the turnings of the plot, I will only say that the search for a sympathetic character becomes even harder in the second volume than it was in the first. I enjoy Parker's worldview, I like the technical aspects, I'm amused by the interpretation of the various professions and the introduction of business as state is entertaining to say the least - it makes for an almost tongue in cheek universe. The only problem I have is, I don't like any of the main characters anymore, perhaps it's human to have weaknesses, but I'm not sure they need to be expressed so forcefully. I will read the last volume, as I said I can't turn away, but I don't particularly care whether the characters live or die. Which is a pity, after the first book I quite liked Baradas.
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Shastel is a country owned and run by an academic foundation, whose bank holds the debts of its impoverished citizens in perpetuity. Spying an opportunity for profit, the Loredan Bank has taken over the nearby island of Scona and is undercutting the Foundation's economy, sparking a trade war that is in danger of turning very real and very bloody. For Bardas Loredan, living in seclusion as a bowyer in Scona's backwater, the last thing he wants is anything to do with the schemes of his ruthless brother and pragmatic sister. But he is soon drawn into the conflict, even as he comes to realise that his attempts to live a good life may be nothing more than a sham.

The Belly of the Bow is the second volume of K.J. Parker's Fencer Trilogy. At first glance, this is a slighter novel than Colours in the Steel. Whilst Colours centred around a massive siege and the attempts to defend a city, The Belly of the Bow is a much more personal story focused on the dysfunctional Loredan family. The war this time is more in the background, and played for maximum cynical impact. Parker's black humour and refusal to glorify the horrors of war combine to provide a damning indictment of violent conflict and the reasons for it.

As a personal, more character-focused story the novel takes a while to get going. The complex relationships between Bardas, his sister, brother and niece are built up steadily but the thematic point of the novel is elusive until a shocking late-novel development throws everything into sharp relief. The book is essentially a character study of Bardas Loredan, who believes himself to be the 'good' member of the family, a hard worker who sends money home to his younger two brothers on their farm and has always tried to do the right thing. As the novel demonstrates, Bardas is kidding himself (his previous careers as soldier and lawyer-at-arms being steeped in blood and mayhem) and his self-belief is a rather brittle thing. When faced with a revelation of a betrayal on an massive scale, his reaction isn't reasoned or understanding, but a cruel and merciless lashing out that is genuinely unexpected.

The novel pivots on this moment (which happens very late in the book) and doesn't fully work until you realise that moment - a moment of gut-wrenching horror that even George R.R. Martin might consider excessive - is coming. As such, the book works a bit better on re-reads. However, as well as Bardas the novel concentrates a lot on his brother, Gorgas. Gorgas is best described as an ex-sociopath who has genuinely reformed from being a violent lunatic and is now seeking to make amends for his past mistakes. Unfortunately, Gorgas is rather disturbingly single-minded in this attempt to seek redemption, and the crimes he commits to achieve it actually dwarf his original offence. The contrast between the two brothers (and Bardas's angry denials he is anything like his brother, which ring increasingly hollow as the trilogy unfolds) is a key point of the novel that Parker develops effectively.

As with much of Parker's work, the tone is often deceptively light-hearted whilst masking a cynical edge, the humour is jet black and the characterisation is strong, but takes a while to come to the fore. Also, as it standard, the novel is packed with information on the creation and use of a standard fantasy weapon of war, in this case the bow. These passages of mechanical engineering may appear skip-worthy, but Parker actually cleverly uses the bow as a metaphor for her(?) characters and the world they live in. Other characters from Colours in the Steel return and there is some more information on the Principal (less of a magic system than an ability to nudge future probabilities to get a more favourable outcome, but due to chaos theory this is wildly unpredictable), but the focus is firmly on the Loredan family and their issues.

The Belly of the Bow (****) is a less-obviously engaging novel than its forebear, but once the scope of Parker's ambition for the book becomes clear it turns into a much more impressive work. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.
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on 13 April 2008
This series certainly has lots of twists and turns.
I'm not certain you can say you feel entirely unsympathetic for the characters, but the author gives the Loredans extreme versions of ordinary flaws and perhaps makes you sit back and think 'wow, was I really starting to identify with him/her?' Certainly the last major plot twist come as a surprise like a punch in the stomach. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I don't think my mind was twisted enough to see it.

So yes, a warning to the squeamish, this book is probably not for you.
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on 12 April 2013
I loved the first book in this trilogy, though it was a little dark at times. So when this book arrived I was eager to read and (I thought) enjoy it. The plot was intriguing, the characters flawed but sympathetic. This was, however, completely destroyed by the ending of the book, which was incredibly gruesome, shocking, and, to be quite frank, unnecessary. An unbelievable ending, but for all the wrong reasons, and really sickening. Unless you have a strong stomach and are willing to shudder with revulsion every time you think about it, I suggest you avoid this book. Or, perhaps, read it up till about the last fifty or so pages.
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on 23 November 2012
I began reading K J Parker with the pretty much superior in every way possible Engineer Trilogy and only started to dip into the back catalogue when there was nothing new to get hold of, and the Fencer Trilogy and The Belly of the Bow makes me very much wish I had not done so. Where the first volume was pretty turgid in terms of the plot and characters, with long and often overdone passages of techincal spiel on either siegecraft or the confused notion of "The Principle", the second is even without the logical structure of the first.

My assumption is that the Loredan family are supposed to be a lineage of sociopaths who are presented in an effort to cut against the tradition of heroes and villains in fantasy literature, but unfotunately Parker was not good enough at the art of characterisation when these books were written to make them come across as anything other than a collection of unpleasant bullies, exploiters and even feckless goons at different stages in the narrative. After having spent the entirety of the first volume being shown Bardas as the unwilling voice of reason and his siblings Gorgas and Niessa as the manipulative swines behind so much human suffering, what I suppose is meant as the twist at the end of the book comes as a surprise akin to a lump in a vital organ rather than as a moment of revelation.

Not wanting to drop spoilers, but at the same time thinking that the supposed climax might simply be too much for some readers, I will say that there seems to be little logic or motivation onto which one can sieze to explain what Bardas Loredan apparently chooses to do of his own free will at the end of this book. I can only presume that Parker is aiming to make some obscure point about the nature of human life and putting a price upon it, but the fact that what happens simply happens and the character responsible then walks away without a word of guilt or recrimination makes the entire thing seem to be a glotrification of the act and nothing more.

Read it if you have to, but I really fail to see the point.
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on 18 March 2001
I usually dread middle books of fantasy trilogies. They are there because the author's publisher has told him/her that fantasy books come in threes: we usually end up spending a lot of time in landscape. Parker's trilogy is quite different; the middle book is vital and engaging; the lack of a sympathetic main character does not mean any lack of empathy and there is no actual need to have read book one.
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on 1 December 1999
Extremely disappointing follow up to a splendid first book. There is none of the originality which was present in Colours in Steel. By the middle of the book any sympathy for the characters is fading and by the end its reserved for the reader desperately trying to finish this turgid volume.
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on 2 June 2000
I enjoyed the first book in this series, but it was a struggle to wade through this I am afraid. None of the freshness of the first and a lame and boring attempt to put international banking into a fantasy context. A real shame that the potential of this series has not been enhanced by this novel, I am going to have to see some pretty stunning reviews before I part with my hard earned cash for the next one in this series!
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on 9 September 2014
Excellent story, takes you into a different world and makes you feel as though you are there.
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