You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Escapement

The Escapement is the final volume in K. J. Parker's Engineer Trilogy. The events take place a few months a few months after the end of the second book, and the war of the Eremians, Valdani and Aram Chantat against the Mezentine Empire is gearing up. Engineers Ziani Vaatzes and Gace Daurenja have formed an uneasy truce in their rivalry. As they work on creating siege engines they manipulate each other, Daurenja to gain power and Vaatzes to reach his final goal.

The Mezentine clerk Lucao Psellus has risen to the head of the all-powerful Necessary Evil--the committee in charge of the war. He uses his new powers to interrogate Vaatzes' wife, trying to get to the bottom of why he created an illegal abomination and who turned him in. Sometimes he seems too smart, as he figures out that his predecessor had an affair with the woman and set the events in motion. He also finds an old book on sieges that he uses to prepare the defense of the city. Both sides are aware of a certain calculation: the allies only have a sufficient food supply to last a few months, so they have a short amount of time to take the city and its supplies before they all starve. So it is a war of attrition.

Unfortunately Duke Valens ends up in the background of the book for most of the story, after being ambushed and nearly killed. I missed him since he was one of the more interesting characters and a central force in the second book. However he becomes less important to the scheming Vaatzes, so he appears less. Miel Ducas shows up and becomes one of Valens' officers, basically putting aside his differences with Daurenja and Vaatzes. He does this in part for himself and in part for his woman, whom he escaped with at the end of the second book. Of all the characters he is one of the most interesting and goes through the most changes. Instead of the dignified noble, he descends to ambushing and murdering Aram Chantat soldiers (who are allied with his ally Duke Valens) and selling their supplies. He leads his soldiers in sacking the farms of neighboring counties and slaughtering the residents. When the allies blow up the embankment in front of the Mezentine city, he leads the charge to slaughter the enemy.

The start of the book was a bit slow, but it gained speed and the description of the siege of the city, which takes up most of the second half, is fascinating. There are many different types of engines, sappers, and sorties that succeed only because the enemy is more incompetent. Overall this was an enjoyable read. I was a little disappointed in the ending and found it unbelievable, but I have to admit it does make some sense in retrospect. Vaatzes stays true to his character up to the end. He is the driving force throughout the series, and claims to have planned everything from the early stages, despite a few places where he got lucky.

Throughout the book the characters ruminate on the philosophical implications of their situations. Psellus for example realizes that the engines and techniques in the book he follows predate the Mezentines, so they could not have been the source of their great technology that is basically the foundation of their society. Valens realizes the kind of man he is allied with in Vaatzes but is powerless to do anything about it. The central theme is Vaaztes plans and his need for an escapement--a piece of the plan to take the stored energy and put it into effect. It is how he finds this that makes the entire plot fall into place. B+

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