The Scavenger Trilogy – K J Parker

I read mainly two types of fiction: crime, and science fiction and fantasy. However, I’ve been on a long run of crime books while simultaneously working my way through this trilogy. Was it worth it?

The three books in this trilogy are:

  1. Shadow
  2. Pattern
  3. Memory

It is set on a fantasy world, with a normal environment. (There are humans, but no orcs, and fledgling science, but no magic, and so on.) It centers on a character who wakes up amidst a pile of bodies after what was obviously a fight, having lost part of his memory. He doesn’t know who he is, where he is, or what he was or should be doing. And so begins one of the most amazing fantasy journeys you will encounter.

Poldarn – the name he most often settles on – meets an incredible array of characters as he tries to find out more. And, as he slowly uncovers the truth, that truth gets rewritten with later explanations and events. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, a complex, challenging adventure.

There are battles and individual swordmanship and strategy and tactics and philosophical debates and religion and dreams and feats of engineering (this author’s specialty) and politics and plotting; there’s so much going on, that the book’s plot twists and turns threatened to outdo me. But it hangs together, and I excused the author’s occasional lapses into unnecessary digressions.

Parker can write. Parker can express the ways of mankind with powerful and effective observation, but without building a literary castle of long words and pretentious crap. More importantly, Parker can infuse characters with an inner voice which is unique, magnetic, and channels the author’s message in an entertaining and thoughtful way. For example, there are occasions when bloody violence is visited upon some poor unfortunate soul. But within the character, that killing seemed so reasonable and necessary. As another example, there’s a near constant gentleness to the writing, regardless of whether it’s life or death being portrayed. In a sense, this echoes the many dream sequences in the book.

There is a lot of evil in the story, but not a clear cut black and white distinction. Instead, there are shades of grey, and even at the end it’s not an easy task to identify the good and the bad forces. That is all part of the entertainment.

So far as the individual books are concerned, Shadow is worth reading on its own. Pattern is equally good, but you must have read Shadow. If you are still going, read Memory. Be warned, however, that in an effort to tie all the loose threads together – enough threads to make a thick rope, probably – the writing does seem to wander a bit. And though the final disclosures and twist are top notch, given the expectations after such a quality journey, some may not be impressed. Do not read it for the ending – read it for the journey.

How best to value this set of books? Try this: I have enjoyed all of Parker’s work released so far, and this trilogy does not dampen my desire to keep reading whatever is produced.