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The Folding Knife

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Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he's only ever made one mistake. One mistake, though, can be enough.


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Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he's only ever made one mistake. One mistake, though, can be enough.

30 review for The Folding Knife

  1. 5 out of 5

    Liviu

    I spent three days on this book and read it almost three times to fully appreciate and enjoy it; my top expected fantasy release of the first half of 2010 and possibly of the whole year, The Folding Knife delivered all that I expected and more; this one is a very tough book to review since so much happens that I would not want to spoil and the motives and actions of its main character Basso are hard to understand without learning some crucial things but at a first try there are some points to I spent three days on this book and read it almost three times to fully appreciate and enjoy it; my top expected fantasy release of the first half of 2010 and possibly of the whole year, The Folding Knife delivered all that I expected and more; this one is a very tough book to review since so much happens that I would not want to spoil and the motives and actions of its main character Basso are hard to understand without learning some crucial things but at a first try there are some points to emphasize: - the book is written almost flawlessly with the same understated, cynical voice of KJ Parker's oeuvre, though this one is arguably the most idealistic of all and Basso the author's most idealistic character who wants to do good in a "real world" way through a combination of wealth, populism and intrigue with "war is an admission of failure" as his motto - the world building is pitch perfect; I could describe it as a modern world without religion and technology in the way we understand them, or in another way an what if no messianic religion with a message of the possibility of human betterment - which however long it took essentially led to our technological world - appeared, but the flows and ebbs of the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine world would have continued for another two thousand years or so; another way of thinking about it would be as a "western" Chinese/Egyptian civilization, relatively stable over thousands of years but based on the Greek/Roman templates; very similar to the world of Fencer but without any overt magic like there - lots of names carry over modified a little, while both the world of The Engineer trilogy and Purple and Black could fit in The Folding Knife universe; very different from Scavenger and The Company which are more traditional pseudo-late medieval/early modern worlds; lots of naming jokes and allusions to the classical world - the twists and turns are superb and while we have an idea of the book ending both from the blurb and from the prologue, we really do not know the hows and whys until almost the last page - the book is also a page turner that you do not want to put down, though I forced myself to read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100 pages, reread them, another 100 pages, another reread and then the last 150 pages, a reread of them and then a reread of the most salient parts of the novel, so in this way I could both enjoy and savor the book as well as keep the tension which ratchets through to the finale An A++, for now this one and The Left Hand of God are the two top fantasies of 2010 and both will be very hard to dislodge from this position

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kaora

    I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, but reading the synopsis intrigued me and I decided to finally pick it up due to several glowing reviews. War is an admission of failure. Bassianus Severus Arcadius or Basso is the First Citizen of the Vasani republic, and has always been known as a lucky man whether it be in business or politics. However, he has made one mistake in his lifetime, and that mistake will come back to haunt him. The book was a political fantasy primarily, building enough I wasn't sure what to expect with this one, but reading the synopsis intrigued me and I decided to finally pick it up due to several glowing reviews. War is an admission of failure. Bassianus Severus Arcadius or Basso is the First Citizen of the Vasani republic, and has always been known as a lucky man whether it be in business or politics. However, he has made one mistake in his lifetime, and that mistake will come back to haunt him. The book was a political fantasy primarily, building enough interest with the prologue to get me through some of the drier parts. Political fantasies are not usually for me, so this was a bit of a shock that I didn't find this one that difficult to get through. There are no typical fantasy elements in this book, but the solid writing and likeable characters held my interest. Basso is a man that while I wouldn't say is exactly a good man, as the reasons for his actions are primarily for his own self interest, he also isn't evil, as he does often go the route that inflicts the least damage to those around him. He even did in several instance better the lives of those around him simply because he could. I really enjoyed him. His sister on the other hand is a character a strongly disliked although I wish we could have possibly seen a little bit more of a background on her motivations because for the life of me I could not relate to a woman that would harm her nephews or make her son unhappy to sabotage her brother. This book is something different than any others I have read and I enjoyed it, but be warned that it may be dry for some if you aren't all that interested in the inner workings of business, politics, economics and making war

  3. 4 out of 5

    Manuel Antão

    If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Open letter to K.J. Parker: Parker, are you male or female? Are you human or alien? Does anyone really care? I surely dont! K.J. Parker, you son/daughter of a gun! Ive been following your career since the beginning, and I still know nothing more of you than your fiction reveals. Though I know that fictional self-revelation can be considerable, I also know that its frequently misinterpreted by those of us who like to indulge in what I If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review. Open letter to K.J. Parker: Parker, are you male or female? Are you human or alien? Does anyone really care? I surely don’t! K.J. Parker, you son/daughter of a gun! I’ve been following your career since the beginning, and I still know nothing more of you than your fiction reveals. Though I know that fictional self-revelation can be considerable, I also know that it’s frequently misinterpreted by those of us who like to indulge in what I like to call “Close Reading”. If I were to invite you for a cup of tea or a beer, I’d expect to meet a very disgruntled, sarcastic and savvy aesthete, prone to odd-word connections, with a taste not only for world-building, but also for the creation of real-world characters. Sometimes there’s a misstep, and I get quite mad at you (vide “Sharps”). Enough fanboying! You can read the rest of this review elsewhere.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... I started writing this review last week, but it just wasn't coming together like I'd hoped. With over 2,000 words written, I was approaching critical mass. You see, K.J. Parker's The Folding Knife is not an easy book to review. There's a lot going on and it's rather non-traditional for a fantasy novel in a lot of ways and then entirely traditional in others. It wasn't until I ran across Lev Grossman's article in the Wall Street Journal Monday morning that http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... I started writing this review last week, but it just wasn't coming together like I'd hoped. With over 2,000 words written, I was approaching critical mass. You see, K.J. Parker's The Folding Knife is not an easy book to review. There's a lot going on and it's rather non-traditional for a fantasy novel in a lot of ways and then entirely traditional in others. It wasn't until I ran across Lev Grossman's article in the Wall Street Journal Monday morning that I knew how I was going to attack this post. Grossman says: "Fantasy does tend to be heavily plot-driven. But plot has gotten a bad rap for the past century, ever since the Modernists (who I revere, don’t get me wrong) took apart the Victorian novel and left it lying in pieces on an old bedsheet on the garage floor. Books like “Ulysses” and “The Sound and the Fury” and “Mrs. Dalloway” shifted the emphasis away from plot onto other things: psychology; dense, layered writing; a fidelity to moment-to-moment lived experience. Plot fell into disrepute. But that was modernism. That was the 1920s and 1930s. It was a movement – a great movement, but like all movements, a thing of its time. Plot is due for a comeback. We’re remembering that it means something too." Yup, that sounds quite a bit like what's going on in Folding Knife and to everyone's benefit it allowed me to cut about a thousand words. In the Vesani Republic, the First Citizen's word is nearly law. Elected by the people, he administers the largest economic power outside the somewhat fractured Eastern Empire. Today, the First Citizen is Bassianus Severus (Basso). Deaf in one ear and brilliant in business, he killed his own wife and brother-in-law after finding them in bed together. Alienated by his surviving family, he uses his influence to become the most powerful man in Vesani. Now what? The first two sentence of that last paragraph, forget them... entirely. Anyone who has read this blog before knows I believe that world-building is a vital part of what imparts fantasy. I've always said great prose, great characters, and all the rest will only get someone so far in the speculative fiction genre. Parker has proven me wrong... mostly. Folding Knife takes place in an invented setting. Want to know a secret? I don't care. I have no idea where Vesani is in relation to the Eastern Empire. I don't care. The moniker of Eastern Empire is so nebulous that I realized Parker doesn't want me to care. Parker's intent, I believe, is to cut away all the extraneous items that distract from the plot. Into that pit go world building, flowery prose, and unnecessary description. Parker even seems to do away with foreshadowing instead opting to tell the reader what happens before going into the details after. What Parker has accomplished is like taking a car from Pimp My Ride and restoring its far more useful and effective former self. Parker picks out the important bits, remove the extraneous fluff, but keeps the meaning the same. This is accomplished to a degree that the novel possesses a style almost reminiscent of a news article (albeit the most impressive news article anyone might read). Even the opening chapter hits the reader with the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN as Basso leaves the Republic in poverty on the top of a wagon. What it holds back is the why. Parker relishes filling in that blank with a brilliant tragedy in the tradition of Shakespeare and Euripides (ok, that might be hyperbole - but not absurdly so). So that's what Folding Knife is. As for what it's about, the closest I can come is finance, loneliness, and in true Shakespearean form hubris. Finance is the device that Parker uses to move the plot from Basso's role as head of the Charity and Social Justice Bank. As someone who makes a living in the American political system I couldn't help observing a parallel between the Vesani (read: Basso) economy and America's. Leveraged, always betting on future profits, never cutting back - all of these are part of why Congress is having a lengthy argument about how best to restructure the federal budget. In that way it can certainly be read as a criticism of U.S. economic policy. As for the other two items (loneliness and hubris), they are the impetus behind Basso's machinations both economic and political. Basso is emotionally challenged and acts out like a robber-baron to preserve not only his place in society, but to boost his perceived infallibility. While this doesn't make him particularly likable, it does make him extremely compelling. Beginning with Basso's murder of his wife and brother-in-law, Parker sets up scenes of loss and heartbreak that resonate time after time. After writing this glowing review, I started wondering why Parker isn't ubiquitously mentioned as one of the foremost authors in the genre? If I had to answer I'd give a two-fold answer. First, Parker is an anonymous writer with no social media presence. Second, Parker writes literary fantasy. Last time I checked Martin Amis and Don DeLillo weren't exactly making the New York Times Bestseller List. If we can all agree that less people read fantasy than "real" fiction, the market Parker is ultimately writing to is even smaller than her mainstream contemporaries. Most the novels that are placed above Parker's are more traditional epic fantasy - A Song of Ice and Fire, The Black Company, The Kingkiller Chronicle, Lord of the Rings, etc. Interestingly, for all that, Folding Knife is an epic fantasy - just not traditionally so. It follows a man through thirty years of his life describing his rise and fall from power through war and peace in 400 some odd pages. Unfortunately, this straddling the line of epic and literary fantasy limits Folding Knife's exposure somewhat preventing Parker from being appropriately recognized. I might be wrong. But if I am, why is there any list of the best fantasy novels out there without The Folding Knife right near the top? I can't explain it any other way.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lanko

    Quite some time, or more precisely, very few books that I've read 100+ pages a day, as I finished this one in three days (it has 432 pages). And it didn't even begin that great, as in, nothing mind blowing happens. But after 1/5 into the book I got used to the style and just read it in huge, uninterrupted bursts. First, this isn't like what most avid fantasy readers are used to. For example, Basso's character. He is great, smart and lucky. Are there really deep characterization of him? Not really, Quite some time, or more precisely, very few books that I've read 100+ pages a day, as I finished this one in three days (it has 432 pages). And it didn't even begin that great, as in, nothing mind blowing happens. But after 1/5 into the book I got used to the style and just read it in huge, uninterrupted bursts. First, this isn't like what most avid fantasy readers are used to. For example, Basso's character. He is great, smart and lucky. Are there really deep characterization of him? Not really, and it's also done discreetly, nothing spoon fed to you (like the people he trusts and why, why he does X or Y, it's all up to your guess and observation). Does he passes through major external or inner changes? Not really. Does he faces tough choices, morally or otherwise? Not really too. But we also get spared a lot of melodrama and he simply kinda of sticks to you. Then we have his profession: a banker who becomes a politician. Lots of technical stuff about these, but that actually were... interesting to read, specially considering the implications that obviously can apply as a critique to politics and economic policies pretty much anywhere in the world, to deceiving the public to the abandonment of the gold standard and all its implications. But all this and the reasons seen through the eyes of the people that did it. The other thing about this book is that there is a lot of telling. Know that rule, "show, don't tell"? Somewhat it's an obsession of writers and readers alike, and telling is treated as a sin. Telling is great when used right. Saying someone is angry is not unacceptable. Showing that that they are is harder, takes more time and sometimes doesn't serve the story better. Showing can be so terribly time consuming and even drag the story, specially when used in non-dramatic moments and applied to most of the story. And here is a book where it's really done right. Of course, it won't work if you are not interested in the story about a banker who wants to dominate the world through currency and monopolies. But this is was the best choice the author could have made. Think about it: the main character is a banker who becomes a politician that achieves the welfare of others by accident of his own selfishness. At many points he questions himself (and others do it too through some amazing conversations about morality and ethics) if he simply lost the capacity to feel. This conscious, yet subtle touch of style added even more of the "impersonal, cold, distant person, who sees only numbers and people as pawns" image that a banker usually has. For me, it fitted perfectly. And the third thing about this book is that it explores another subject usually frowned upon: luck and chance. Pretty much everyone says that coincidences and good or bad luck are constant things in real life, but shouldn't exist in fantasy stories. Everything needs to have a purpose or be foreshadowed, and so on. That's another theme explored along the story. Sure, it can backfire or be done wrong, but once again here it's done right. When protagonists and antagonists clashes, there's an outcome. And here sometimes this outcome starts to put in motion plans and actions based on it. People and events that both protagonists and antagonists had no idea that even existed. Yes, the main characters do have agency, plenty of it in fact. But so do all the other people in the world. Just because you don't know they don't exist doesn't mean they don't have their own agency as well. These things happen and once you discover why someone did X, it will become pretty obvious that was what was gonna happen. It subtly covers another aspect of the banking/political theme: speculation for one, and a very nice critique about politics: how it pretty much always fight to extinguish the fire instead of preventing it to start, and then, depending on the results, claim everything done right as their own doing or blame everything gone wrong on someone else. So this mixture of good use of more telling instead of showing, luck and chance and some very good humor (or straight out very silly passages) on parts about politics/economics/war/ethics that prevented those themes to become too deadly serious was well worthwhile. Parker probably wrote it with some criticism to the U.S or U.K policies, but really, the stuff that happens here is pretty much universal and parallels can be traced to pretty much any country in the world. Of course, if you don't like the theme you probably won't enjoy the story. Oh, yes, there's no magic, it's pretty much a historical fiction, or even straight out political fantasy. As for me, I think every choice the author made about how and why to tell the story fitted perfectly thematically and will definitely read more of K.J. Parker.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Holly (The Grimdragon)

    "He sees a bed, in a well-furnished room. On the floor beside it lies a naked man, face down, holding a fancy costume dagger. His throat has been cut. On the bed there's the body of a woman, and her throat's been cut too, but she lies face upwards; her lips are still moving, but her eyes are just taking on that cold, hard look. If a speck of dust were to land on them, or a fly, they wouldn't blink. He sees her through a red blur, because the blood from her jugular vein spurted in his face. In "He sees a bed, in a well-furnished room. On the floor beside it lies a naked man, face down, holding a fancy costume dagger. His throat has been cut. On the bed there's the body of a woman, and her throat's been cut too, but she lies face upwards; her lips are still moving, but her eyes are just taking on that cold, hard look. If a speck of dust were to land on them, or a fly, they wouldn't blink. He sees her through a red blur, because the blood from her jugular vein spurted in his face. In his right hand he feels the handle of the folding knife." The Folding Knife is a novel written by K.J. Parker, the pseudonym for Tom Holt. Parker's identity was a well-kept secret for nearly two decades. Though this is my first book by the author, this is a name I had been aware of in the fantasy world for quite some time. I knew once I eventually dove into their work that The Folding Knife would be my introduction, not only because I have owned it the longest, but because it is a rare standalone. Like much of the internet, apparently, I was under the impression that Parker was a woman. Then I started The Folding Knife. I'm sorry to say, but it was quite obvious to me early on that this was a male writer. The way the female characters were written certainly tipped me off in that regard. I'm absolutely *not* saying that men cannot write characters outside of the male persuasion, clearly. Scroll through the books I love and you'll see plenty of male authors who write kickass individuals! That's not the case for *some* writers, but for others? You already know. Now, there were women in this book, although I struggle to come up with a single redeeming quality about any of them. They were all so one-dimensional. Shit, the only one that was remotely interesting was Lina, Basso's sister. However, over the course of the book she became this cringey cartoon villain. And although I'm sure this will be a controversial comment (SO HOLD ONTO YOUR BUTTS), if the tables were turned and a female author had written a non-male character in the Basso role, with a man as Lina.. would she have been cut the same slack? I seriously doubt it. O HAI DOUBLE STANDARDS! But I digress. This is marketed as high fantasy, although I would clarify that it leans much more heavily into historical fiction. And it is D-R-Y. I found myself skimming entire passages, which is something I never do. Truthfully, I should have DNF'd this, but there was something telling me to keep going. Surely it would pick up. An epic battle has to happen. Basso is going to redeem himself and become less of a boring twat waffle, right? RIGHT?!? Reader, it did not pick up. Basso is bland as fuck, there isn't any magic (in the actual "fantasy" world or in the storytelling) and it's a so-called tragedy without any real emotional attachment. After my point about the shitty female characters, this is probably incredibly petty of me to point out, but the pages and pages (and pages) of italics began to grate on my fucking nerves after awhile as well. So there's that. I'm finding it hard to write this review. It's one of those stories where a lot happens, while nothing at all happens. It's slow, but without the burn.  Damn.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lena

    I need to stop pretending Im going to finish this. I thought it would be fantasy but it was historical fiction. That would have been ok if some of the characters hadnt been tiresome. I need to stop pretending I’m going to finish this. I thought it would be fantasy but it was historical fiction. That would have been ok if some of the characters hadn’t been tiresome.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Jackson

    The Folding Knife is a socio-economic fantasy, and it's so much more interesting than that description makes it sound. Of course, it's much more: murders, betrayal, attempted assassination, spies, wars and military strategies on a grand scale. We follow the rise of Bassanius Severus (Basso) from the ranks of a rather mediocre family, to the president of a bank, to the office of First Citizen of the Vesani Republic (an overt homage to Rome). Basso is cunning, ruthless, and inordinately lucky; you The Folding Knife is a socio-economic fantasy, and it's so much more interesting than that description makes it sound. Of course, it's much more: murders, betrayal, attempted assassination, spies, wars and military strategies on a grand scale. We follow the rise of Bassanius Severus (Basso) from the ranks of a rather mediocre family, to the president of a bank, to the office of First Citizen of the Vesani Republic (an overt homage to Rome). Basso is cunning, ruthless, and inordinately lucky; you cheer for him nonetheless. His method of societal improvement, he says, hinges on the (disputable) fact that he is not a good man: where a virtuous leader would soon find that his intractable morals had expedited his demise, Basso fulfills his duties by seeking to advance his own interests (first ensuring that his interests align with his people's). He works every machination with an undercurrent of guilt, driven by a corrupt conscience that plagues him as often as it guides him. Ultimately, he seeks to change the face of the Vesani Republic forever. This is a book about ends justifying means, what it means to be good, the limits of redemption, and the inescapability of our own nature. It is a masterful work. And yes, there's a lot of economics thrown in, and Parker somehow makes every word enjoyable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Reggie Kray

    You would imagine a book about the financial aspect of warfare to be perhaps banal. Or egregiously tedious. You would be wrong in this assumption.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    With luck, intellect, and an innate skill with strategy on his side, Basso is a powerhouse of ambition. His goal: to take everything he can and control the rest. Just because he can. Well, at least that's what he'll tell you. But, as Basso would say, there's always another reason. Set in the ancient Rome-like city of the Vesani Republic, THE FOLDING KNIFE follows the life of Bassianus Severus, First Citizen, from the odd circumstances surrounding his birth, to his meteoric rise in the banking With luck, intellect, and an innate skill with strategy on his side, Basso is a powerhouse of ambition. His goal: to take everything he can and control the rest. Just because he can. Well, at least that's what he'll tell you. But, as Basso would say, there's always another reason. Set in the ancient Rome-like city of the Vesani Republic, THE FOLDING KNIFE follows the life of Bassianus Severus, First Citizen, from the odd circumstances surrounding his birth, to his meteoric rise in the banking industry, to becoming the elected leader of the most civilized city of the known world. It's a story of politics and business, of love and hate--and how little it takes for one to become the other. But mostly it's about Basso, and no matter how great a man becomes, and how pure his intentions are, when everything finally crashes the sound can be deafening. Parker has a big story to tell and likes telling it quickly; for example, the first forty years are covered in three chapters. Then it's during the events following the author's engaging set-up that we can finally begin to unfold the motivations and back story. You have to be patient, because despite the story's quick pace, Parker seems to enjoy telling the important bits out of order, so you won't often understand the 'why' until later. As you read it's hard to say exactly where the story is headed, as it dashes this way and that, or takes the occasional turn. (Basso himself would approve of this method, since he takes great pride in the bait-and-switch tactics he uses on his political and business rivals.) However, readers will be fine with swiftly moving from scene to scene because Basso is such an interesting character. It's easy to be caught up in the details surrounding his relationships and the choices he makes. He's a likable mixture of self-interest and soft-heartedness who will do what's ugly for sake of what's right, and is unapologetically aware of the kind of person he is. The people around him are as interesting as he is, such as the clever General Aelius and Basso's earnest nephew Bassano. Parker's writing is fluid, fun, and fast-paced, the dialogue between the characters engaging and hilariously candid. The use of modern lingo, however, is oddly incongruous with the novel's era of carriages and swords, and it took me a couple of chapters to sync with the prose's flow. But once I did, the story flew by. Easily the best part of the book is Parker's droll sense of humor, occasionally bordering on the downright silly. Basso and company see situations for how ridiculous they really are, which makes what could have been a too-serious story instead easy reading because of the way they poke fun at themselves and the world around them. The majority of the novel takes place in the city of the Vesani Republic, but we also learn about the surrounding nations, their customs, and the eccentricities of their peoples. The author attempts to build a world of complexity, but overreaches so the world-building lacks focus. And while humor is great for dialogue, the frequently quirky descriptions of other nations makes it hard to give them significance when the author is inconsistent about whether we should take them seriously or not. Parker spends 400 pages setting us up for...something. I'm not really sure what. As the novel progresses, it gets bogged down in the business, political, and wartime maneuverings. Where the climax should be are events we don't get to witness directly except through Bassano's idiosyncratic correspondence. After spending so long in the day-to-day goings on surrounding Basso, this jumbled summary of the culmination of events doesn't match the rest of the novel and takes the reader painfully out of the story. By the end, the plot completely disintegrates, with characters doing the inexplicable, Parker's attempts at being philosphical falling flat, and the story resolves into a wandering meaninglessness. Is THE FOLDING KNIFE worth reading? Sure, on a Sunday afternoon when you're in the mood to enjoy fun to read prose and likable characters...but at the same time don't want to think too hard about the point of the story.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Pretty good read. This is the second K.J. Parker book Ive read, the first being the excellent, recent 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City. Maybe a bit too early to generalise from two books but I see outlines of a style for this author, in the same way that Terry Pratchett had a style despite plots with different scenarios and characters. I see witty dialogue, a quick pace to a clever storyline with plenty of twists and turns. Sharp, tight prose, that rarely deviates from what we really need to know. Pretty good read. This is the second K.J. Parker book I’ve read, the first being the excellent, recent 16 Ways to Defend a Walled City. Maybe a bit too early to generalise from two books but I see outlines of a style for this author, in the same way that Terry Pratchett had a style despite plots with different scenarios and characters. I see witty dialogue, a quick pace to a clever storyline with plenty of twists and turns. Sharp, tight prose, that rarely deviates from what we really need to know. These seem common to both books I’ve read. In the previous book I quite liked the lead character; in this one I didn’t. That shouldn’t really matter as morally ambivalent, or anti-hero, characters can be very satisfying leads to a story. But I just couldn’t work up any empathy for Basso, even as a flawed lead character in this 3rd person narrative despite plenty of back story to help you see why he thinks as he does. He is meant to be emotionally cold though hints are given that isn’t the case for everyone he knows. You are taken closer to the character than the 3rd person often allows because the book is packed full of sharp dialogue (and some personal letters) between characters that takes you inside them, especially Basso. But I was surprised how little there was to him other than a clever, Machiavellian banker/politician who eventually finds himself as the top dog in an old Venetian-style renaissance city state. All in all a more than fun read. The dialogue is great, the author writes fast and effective prose, the storyline is clever. A historical fantasy with no magic. But I just couldn’t bring myself to care about Basso or his lifelong issues with his sister, a crucial part of the plot. He understands his flaws, is quite self aware but does nothing to change it. I will read more by K.J. Parker as I already enjoy his style of writing.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Saphana

    This is actually a re-read. Even better than the first time around, for now it became totally clear, how the thing with the knife works. (view spoiler)[As long as Basso is doing things for his own profit, thereby (and not so inadvertently) achieving gread and good things for all around: the bank, the Republic, Bassano; he has an immense amount of luck. As soon as he starts to invert his thinking and trying to do good things for good things sake, his luck runs out. And when it's gone, he even This is actually a re-read. Even better than the first time around, for now it became totally clear, how the thing with the knife works. (view spoiler)[As long as Basso is doing things for his own profit, thereby (and not so inadvertently) achieving gread and good things for all around: the bank, the Republic, Bassano; he has an immense amount of luck. As soon as he starts to invert his thinking and trying to do good things for good things sake, his luck runs out. And when it's gone, he even looses the knife. (hide spoiler)] Still one of the best books I own. This one in my favorite Parker technique: begin at the end and from there on out, deconstruct. Marvelously made, witty and economically sound. I know of no other author, who can manage to start at the end without giving anything away and keep your nose bound in the book until you absolutely understand, how it came to that. Highly recommend.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dee

    Only KJ Parker could write a fantasy novel about the global financial crisis. (Discuss.)

  14. 4 out of 5

    DJ

    4.5/5 Rating Originally posted at https://mylifemybooksmyescape.wordpre... A heart-breaking, bitter-sweet story, that despite the potential boring sound of a banking and political focus, will keep you engaged, and biting your nails every page. I have no idea why, but I could not put this down. It is literally about a man - boy at the time - who starts working at bank, builds up a vast amount of money running the bank, becomes the First Citizen of a faux-Rome country, and then through political and 4.5/5 Rating Originally posted at https://mylifemybooksmyescape.wordpre... A heart-breaking, bitter-sweet story, that despite the potential boring sound of a banking and political focus, will keep you engaged, and biting your nails every page. I have no idea why, but I could not put this down. It is literally about a man - boy at the time - who starts working at bank, builds up a vast amount of money running the bank, becomes the First Citizen of a faux-Rome country, and then through political and economical manipulation, we see him rule his country. No sword fighting, no magic; it's politics, banking, and economics, and I loved every page of it! When Basso was a young man, his father used to be the First Citizen, but lost his re-election. After his loss, and down on money, his father decided to gamble and buy a bank. Best deal he ever made he he said. It is at this bank that Basso begins to work under Antigonus, and through him that he learns to become a master of banking. At the time when Basso's father was still suffering from financial difficulties after the election loss, and before the bank took off, in order to gain some money and keep reputation, he arranged a marriage for Basso to marry a girl named Cilia. Basso was sweet, young, and optimistic about the situation - even apologizing for his lack of looks to Cilia - believing that one day they would grow to learn to love each other. Running a bank takes up almost all of Basso's time and after a while his wife begins to complain about this. So, one day he comes home early to surprise her and the twins, to take them away for little trip. When opens to door his bedroom, he finds his wife with another man, Palo, who is also his sister's husband. It is here that Basso makes a decision, one decision, that will ruin the rest of life. Actually, I lied; I know why I couldn't put this book. It was because of one name, one character, one man: Basso. What a character K.J. Parker created. It's one of these characters that will have you scratching your head with his decisions, and take you on emotional rollercoaster. We start off seeing Basso protecting and caring for his sister, whom he loves more than anyone else; he is working in the bank not because he is father's son, but because he wants to give it his best and be great; he knows that his marriage is forced, and him and Cilia don't love each yet, but he wants to make it so one day they can both learn to love each other. You can't help be hopeful and optimistic for him. You fall in love with his character at the start, and then that one day when he get homes early, trying to do something nice, everything falls apart, and he is never the same. He doesn't go off on a drinking bender, or run away to another country or any like that after. He stays running the bank, and eventually becomes First Citizen, and becomes more successful than your wildest dreams, but because of what happens that day, it creates something between him and his sister... and Basso is the never the same. ((For the record, I have no idea why Basso feels bad for what he did. I support him 100% with Palo - not Cilia - and he should no way feel guilty about what he did to his sister. He did nothing! His sister is CRAZY! I would have had her killed. But that just shows how much Basso loves her, I guess.)) From then on, I could only see how miserable Basso was with everything in life. He was having financial and political success greater than any other, but at the same time I could see him making mistake after mistake, and couldn't help but wonder why on Earth he kept going on. Why was he making these deals, taking these risks, always pushing his luck - for what? He's already at the top. Nowhere else to go! He was Basso the Magnificent, and the Great! So, what's the reason? All I wanted was for Basso to be happy... The bulk of the story is about banking economics and political scheming. You might be like me, and have ZERO interest them, so why should you pick this up? Because of Basso. All this political maneuvering and economical genius that Parker comes up with for Basso, is extremely impressive. Simply looking at the risks involved in the moves and deals that Basso makes are enough to make you worry for the Bank and Country, but when you bring in that sympathy you have for him, it take thats stress to a new level, and makes each of Basso's deals, all the more important to you. Because with these banking deals, you never know how the will turn out - something always changes that can affect them, and there can be a great amount of luck involved - and they can take forever for the final outcome, every deal Basso does, starts to slowly add up through out the story, and eventually you're just waiting for Jenga tower to collapse. As magnificent as this book was, it is not for everyone. Despite how intrigued I was with Basso, it wasn't uncommon for me to be uninterested in the details of banking and government, and just want to get to the TL;DR so I could know what the deal and why Basso made it. However, if you are willing to give this a shot, I'll think it may be worth it. Basso is a great, magnificent - and every other nickname he has - sympathetic, and intriguing character, and the story is full complex political and baking moves, that fascinated me. This was my first K.J. Parker novel. I don't know how it matches up to the rest, but I do know that this won't be my last. 4.5/5 Rating -DJ

  15. 5 out of 5

    AdamH

    Good read. Similar to Baru Cormorant. Felt unattached at times to the main character and his cast of associates, but still worth the initial time investment.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    This was my first experience reading a book by K. J. Parker and I enjoyed it immensely. It was grim but also had some funny dialogue, and it was more compelling than I would have expected for a book so heavily focused on the politics and economics of a country. Full Review

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    http://www.tenaciousreader.com/2013/0... Loved this book! Basso is fascinating, loved the politics. Very much a book that relates easily to the real world, and one that I think people should read. Ill definitely be reading more by Parker.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Read my full review here: http://bookwormblues.blogspot.com/201...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Crunknor

    (x-posted from http://ketsugami.livejournal.com/tag/...) I've read quite a few (actually all, I think) of Parker's books, and they're an interesting bunch; often flawed, but in fascinating ways. So, I always pick up the new ones to see what she comes up with. (As usual, I assume Parker is a 'she', though there's not much evidence one way or the other.) In this one, we basically get the life story of Basso, the great leader of the Republic, and this being Parker his inevitable downfall and (x-posted from http://ketsugami.livejournal.com/tag/...) I've read quite a few (actually all, I think) of Parker's books, and they're an interesting bunch; often flawed, but in fascinating ways. So, I always pick up the new ones to see what she comes up with. (As usual, I assume Parker is a 'she', though there's not much evidence one way or the other.) In this one, we basically get the life story of Basso, the great leader of the Republic, and this being Parker his inevitable downfall and destruction. (That's not a spoiler, all her books end that way.) Basically I'm of two minds. As usual, her writing is solid, with good dialogue and grasp of details. The plot takes a little while to get going, but it clips along pretty well, and you're never left at a loss for a reason to turn pages. Also as usual, her characters are mostly variations on the same Parker character from all her other books, the hyper-rational reasoner who, while he (or she) may make emotional decisions, always reasons dispassionately about those decisions. I imagine this might be a little disconcerting to someone new to her books; it certain threw me a little for the first few, but I'm used to it by now. This book feels like it doesn't succeed, though, on a couple of levels. Primarily it doesn't work as tragedy. That it is tragedy is there from the beginning -- the book jacket says Basso will be brought down by his greatest mistake, and the prologue has him, forty years later, fleeing the city in disgrace. But a proper tragedy requires irony (in the actual sense of the word irony) in order to work. The destruction of the hero is supposed to come from within, arising from some fatal flaw; otherwise, his downfall feels either pathetic or arbitrary. In spite of the book jacket's assertion to the contrary, Basso's failure doesn't come from his "greatest mistake", but rather from a couple of totally unrelated sources, including simple bad luck. Which leads to the second failure -- throughout the book, Basso is depicted as a masterful and omni-competent schemer, and then at the end he suddenly falls apart. One could argue that it's a basic part of his character -- a tragic flaw -- to continually grasp for bigger and bigger schemes, until one finally comes apart on him, but if that's the point then it's very poorly made. On the contrary, the impression is pretty strong that things would have worked out fine if a few random events had broken the other way, which doesn't make for much of a tragic downfall. But even thinking about it like that makes it clear that success or failure were pretty finely balanced, which makes you wonder why he undertook that particular scheme in the first place. Given his usual super-intelligence, it seems like kind of a dumb move. (c.f. the end of Zahn's first Star Wars trilogy) I have a few other nitpicks, but they apply more to Parker's work as a whole. She uses almost the same setting in every story she writes -- a sort of cross between the late Roman Republic and Renaissance Italy. There's nothing wrong with it, per se, but it's disconcerting to see the same period details and political and social structures reused in settings that are supposed to be independent of one another. This one is more Roman then some of the others, which is at least something, but many of the plot elements (giant mercenary armies, use of plague as a weapon of war) are repeated from Engineer or Fencer. (I also feel compelled to note that while this book contains a lot more politics and economics then warfare, unlike previous volumes, the author's grasp of economics is about as sophisticated as her grasp of strategy, e.g. rudimentary at best. It tends to feel like she's got a grab bag of terms and concepts but not a deep understanding, as opposed to her understanding of blacksmithing or siege artillery, which is extensive.) So, overall, mixed. Not her worst book, and definitely well-written, but the ending left me disappointed. I can't really recommend this except to those who know and enjoy Parker's style; if you haven't tried her work, start with the Engineer trilogy, which I liked the best to date.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rubisco

    This book. This book . You ever get 50 pages into a book and wonder if the author/universe created it specially for you? That was me, with this one. The Folding Knife is the story of the rise and fall of Bassianus Severus, First Citizen and richest man in the Vesani Republic, who makes a mistake that undoes a lifetime of achievement. Its a rich, complicated story, full of politics, scheming, warfare and economics (but no magic; its a secondary world, but its not fantastical), with a wonderful dry This book. This book . You ever get 50 pages into a book and wonder if the author/universe created it specially for you? That was me, with this one. The Folding Knife is the story of the rise and fall of Bassianus Severus, First Citizen and richest man in the Vesani Republic, who makes a mistake that undoes a lifetime of achievement. It’s a rich, complicated story, full of politics, scheming, warfare and economics (but no magic; it’s a secondary world, but it’s not fantastical), with a wonderful dry wit. Seriously, there’s some high-level economics in this book, which is to be expected when the main character both owns the largest bank in the Republic and sets Republic economic policy. (Conflict of interest? Never heard of it.) Our main character, Basso, is an incredibly clever man who is also seemingly blessed with good luck - and this isn’t one of those books where you’re told the character is intelligent and have to take it on trust, we’re shown over and over again that he can run rings around (almost) everyone else (I also fully accept that KJ Parker is as clever as Basso). He’s bold, brilliant and manipulative. Is he a good man? He doesn’t think so, but also isn’t really worried about that. Viewed from afar, he’s definitely sleazy, and yet it’s hard not to root for him as we spend so much time in his head and seeing his delicate schemes play out. He’s deeply self-serving, but it’s just so fun watching him shape the Republic to his will. The other characters are described roughly in proportion with how much Basso cares about them - his beloved nephew gets a lot of discussion, while his cabinet members are given rather less attention. That doesn’t mean that all the characters don’t feel fully rounded, as their personalities still come across in their words and actions when they’re around Basso, but it’s an effective way of conveying who matters to him and who doesn’t. The setting - a blend of Roman Empire and Italian city-state - is given exactly as much description as is needed to understand the situation. I don’t know what they wear, I don’t know all the ministers in the Cabinet, I have only a vague sense of geography (no map). It doesn't matter though: it still feels rich and real and atmospheric, and keeps the plot moving along at a clip. The first half of the book charts Basso’s meteoric rise, as scheme after scheme pays off and he becomes incredibly powerful, both economically and politically. But we’re told upfront, in the prologue, that it isn’t going to last. Events begin to spiral out of his control as he desperately tries to reign things in, and even though I knew it wasn’t going to work, I didn’t really believe that Basso the Wise, Basso the Great, could fail to find a solution. My heart was racing through the last 100 pages waiting to see how it would all finally play out. The Folding Knife is a magnificent book, that made me laugh and broke my heart, and I can’t wait to read it again (along with everything else in Parker's back catalogue).

  21. 5 out of 5

    Beth Dawkins

    Basso is the First citizen of the Vesani Republic. Things seem to be going great until an unlucky misstep. This is my 8th book by K.J. Parker. Usually it is set up around an object, or fundamental, and we learn how the characters actions and out comes fit with the fundamental or object. In this case it is a simple folding knife. Basso uses the knife early on to change his life, and because of that it forms who and what he is. Basso uses situations and even people at times as easily as he would Basso is the First citizen of the Vesani Republic. Things seem to be going great until an unlucky misstep. This is my 8th book by K.J. Parker. Usually it is set up around an object, or fundamental, and we learn how the characters’ actions and out comes fit with the fundamental or object. In this case it is a simple folding knife. Basso uses the knife early on to change his life, and because of that it forms who and what he is. Basso uses situations and even people at times as easily as he would use his folding knife. The story revolves around the life of Basso. Like most of Parker’s characters he is neither good, nor bad. His father runs a bank, and as a young boy he is put with a slave who teaches him how to run the bank. Later the slave becomes his best friend, and one of the few people in Basso’s life he trusts. He learns how money can control the republic, and wars. With this knowledge he grows up to be the first citizen bending rules and laws to fit his own needs. There are only a couple people in the world he really cares about. Among them are his sister, who hates him, and her son Bassano. He sees Bassano as the all-around good kid. He strives to help his nephew, but his sister spends a lot of time trying to use her son against him. His sister was hard for me to swallow as a character. She hates her brother more than she loves anyone. At times she seemed just plain silly, but she seems the other side of the blade. There is also Aelius, the commander of the army. The army is not from the Republic, but hired from outside. Basso decides very early on that Aelius is going to be his man in the army. They have a small past, and become somewhat friends over time. Despite Basso’s trust he continually makes Aelius go through embarrassing public displays every time he has a major win. This is a story of dense detail. It can sometimes bog the reader down, unless the reader is interested in old economics and government. It reminded me of a smaller kind of Rome. As Basso gains popularity, he makes his bank the best in the city. When something he wants done that he can’t do, he finances it or changes the laws so that it is possible. Despite the fact it is for personal gain he always seems to end up benefiting the Republic. This is a part of his luck, the same luck his father had. The story almost feels like you are reading a history book, but it is all made up. It is a fantasy story that doesn’t have any magical elements. I had a hard time at figuring out how Basso was the folding knife. Instead I thought he was more like the coins featuring his head. The story and facts are very dense, and there is not a great deal of action. I wouldn’t recommend it to start with Parker’s novels, plus it was far from my favorite (unless you love those details). Favorite quote- “A hero doesn’t think, if I go into battle against impossible odds and get myself killed, my wife will lose the farm and my kid’ll grow up without a father.” -Bassano

  22. 4 out of 5

    Tijani Kay Aderemi

    The Folding Knife is not your traditional fantasy novel, and at times seems dry when reading. But it becomes more interesting once you realise it's book set in an ancient Roman Republic. Bassianus Severus Arcadius is an interesting man, with no pretentions as to his motives for whatever action he undertakes. That to me is as true a man can be to himself. The Book explores the Roman culture and provides a glimpse of the brilliance of the politicians of that epoch. Bassianus did well considering, The Folding Knife is not your traditional fantasy novel, and at times seems dry when reading. But it becomes more interesting once you realise it's book set in an ancient Roman Republic. Bassianus Severus Arcadius is an interesting man, with no pretentions as to his motives for whatever action he undertakes. That to me is as true a man can be to himself. The Book explores the Roman culture and provides a glimpse of the brilliance of the politicians of that epoch. Bassianus did well considering, but like all ambitious men had to outdo himself. Don't set your expectations too high, and it will turn out to be a fascinating read.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    This book is really unique. It took me a long time to get through, but I enjoyed every page. I think I needed to take my time in order to truly appreciate the story. KJ Parker has written the rise and fall of one man who is clever, cunning, and lucky. The writing is fascinating and meticulous; it is like reading the thought process behind a particularly inspired chess player. We see Basso's ruthless decisions and how he and his advisor Antigonus can see the impacts of small decisions in the long This book is really unique. It took me a long time to get through, but I enjoyed every page. I think I needed to take my time in order to truly appreciate the story. KJ Parker has written the rise and fall of one man who is clever, cunning, and lucky. The writing is fascinating and meticulous; it is like reading the thought process behind a particularly inspired chess player. We see Basso's ruthless decisions and how he and his advisor Antigonus can see the impacts of small decisions in the long run of their plans. The characters are smart, witty, and brilliant. Even though you can see the ruthlessness behind some of Basso's decisions, you can't help but route for him, and his love for his sister and her son is really redeeming, even though that is one of the only humane things about him. I in particular liked that Basso surrounded himself with other smart people who are willing to challenge his ideas, and thus he trusts their opinions more. The plot of this book revolves around political intrigues and plotting war in a land reminiscent of the Roman Empire. And these political intrigues aren't what you would typically assume, secret lovers or dramatic betrayals. It is much more subtle than that, which on the surface is not particularly interesting, unless you really connect with the way Basso thinks. If you find Basso's machinations uninteresting, you will not enjoy this book, but I was strangely drawn in. Basso's cunning and his subsequent interactions with people around him has just enough heart involved to win you over, even when you aren't sure if you like the people you are reading about.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Besha

    I have some seriously mixed feelings about KJ Parker. I had a half-joking theory that this was what Scott Lynch was doing between Gentleman Bastards books--they have some major similarities. But Scott Lynch's plotting isn't quite as subtle, and his female characters all get names. Seriously: What's Basso's sister's name? It's Placidia in one chapter, Tranquillina in two others, and just "his sister" everywhere else. It's the best argument I've seen for Parker being male. I'd love to find that a I have some seriously mixed feelings about KJ Parker. I had a half-joking theory that this was what Scott Lynch was doing between Gentleman Bastards books--they have some major similarities. But Scott Lynch's plotting isn't quite as subtle, and his female characters all get names. Seriously: What's Basso's sister's name? It's Placidia in one chapter, Tranquillina in two others, and just "his sister" everywhere else. It's the best argument I've seen for Parker being male. I'd love to find that a woman is writing dense military fiction with digressions on siege tactics and banking, but I'd be seriously creeped out to find that she can't bother remembering her female characters' names, let alone making them remotely sympathetic. That said. Rereading this after the Fencer trilogy makes me appreciate Parker's growth in characterization; Basso is sympathetic even when he's being terrible. The plotting and the pacing are superb and the humor is as deadpan as I could ask for. "You're not allowed to drink alcohol on duty, are you?" "Actually, that's law enforcement officers," the priest said.

  25. 5 out of 5

    H. P.

    The Folding Knife is K.J. Parkers masterful life story of a thinly-veiled Doge in a thinly-veiled medieval Venice. Basso has always been lucky, and its better to be lucky than good. Basso quickly rises to become, like his father, the First Citizen of the Vesani Republic, a mercantile city-state. But unlike his father, Basso is both lucky and smart, and begins amassing a great fortune over a long political career. But mustnt it all eventually come crashing down? After all, even great men make The Folding Knife is K.J. Parker’s masterful life story of a thinly-veiled Doge in a thinly-veiled medieval Venice. Basso has always been lucky, and it’s better to be lucky than good. Basso quickly rises to become, like his father, the First Citizen of the Vesani Republic, a mercantile city-state. But unlike his father, Basso is both lucky and smart, and begins amassing a great fortune over a long political career. But mustn’t it all eventually come crashing down? After all, even great men make mistakes. Parker, though, leaves the reader questioning whether Basso was ever a great man and just what mistake he made. That’s typical for an incredibly ambitious work. Written almost like a history book, veering between the historical perspective and a personal perspective more common to fantasy novels. Politics, the law, and economics, especially banking, are featured to far greater an extent than usual. Almost everything is pregnant with deeper meaning, as they say. It makes for a powerful whole, if the climax is in some ways disappointing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lena

    If you like politics and economic power of the Roman/Venetian kind then this is the book for you, otherwise it's dry and too esoteric. Loved that the world feels fully formed with a rich history and the twists and turns in the story are hilarious. I loved Basso's character, he's an awful human lacking empathy but somehow his schemes to get even more wealthy and powerful have the nice accidental side benefit of helping the Vesani Republic. In the beginning you know he's been setup to fall and If you like politics and economic power of the Roman/Venetian kind then this is the book for you, otherwise it's dry and too esoteric. Loved that the world feels fully formed with a rich history and the twists and turns in the story are hilarious. I loved Basso's character, he's an awful human lacking empathy but somehow his schemes to get even more wealthy and powerful have the nice accidental side benefit of helping the Vesani Republic. In the beginning you know he's been setup to fall and waiting to see how/when he makes a mistake made this a page turner for me. At first I was extremely disappointed with the ending. But after thinking about it, it actually fits really well with the running theme of Basso's "luck" and it eventually running out in such a spectacular fashion.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John

    loved this. similar tonally to his short stories (academic excersises), but just longer. you know from the beginning that Basso is going to go down in flames, but I was perpetually torn between wanting him to succeed and fail. the story is very unlike most fantasy stories - not much violence, no magic, mostly politics, logistics and economics. the wars are dealt with drily but also realistically - little mention of glory, instead it focuses on how much goes into running an army and what it's loved this. similar tonally to his short stories (academic excersises), but just longer. you know from the beginning that Basso is going to go down in flames, but I was perpetually torn between wanting him to succeed and fail. the story is very unlike most fantasy stories - not much violence, no magic, mostly politics, logistics and economics. the wars are dealt with drily but also realistically - little mention of glory, instead it focuses on how much goes into running an army and what it's like to march places. overall, fairly dry but very well told and written, excellent

  28. 4 out of 5

    Drake

    K.J. Parker's strength lie not in characterisation or narrative but in the elaboration and extension of a single concept into a novel (or three). This book is no exception; it is a high quality craft, but will not be to everyone's tastes.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    DNF @ chapter 2. Had to put it down. Wasn't as ground breaking as I thought it would be, and I just didn't want a fluffy grim dark fantasy tale.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam Whitehead

    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 K.J. Parker, a stand-alone book which is not part of any series. Twenty ago I picked up Parker's debut novel, Colours in the Steel, and later its two sequels 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 K.J. Parker, a stand-alone book which is not part of any series. Twenty ago I picked up Parker's debut novel, Colours in the Steel, and later its two sequels and enjoyed them enormously. 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 2008 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 his twisted sense of humour remains intact. He also reigns in his 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.

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