The Hammer, by K J Parker


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Author’s website
Publication date – January 5, 2011

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The colony was founded seventy years ago. The plan was originally to mine silver, but there turned out not to be any.

Now an uneasy peace exists on the island, between the colonists and the once-noble met’Oc, a family in exile on a remote stronghold for their role in a vaguely remembered civil war. The met’Oc are tolerated, in spite of occasional cattle stealing raids, since they alone possess the weapons considered necessary protection in the event of the island’s savages becoming hostile.

Gignomai is the youngest brother in the current generation of met’Oc. And he is about to provide the spark that will ignite a brutal and bloody war.

Thoughts: First, I’d like to make a point of stating that the author clearly went through a lot of trouble to set up the world in which this book takes place. So very like our own world’s history, there are enough similarities to make the setting familiar and enough differences to give it a fantastical feeling of being somewhere strange and new. It was clearly well thought through.

Perhaps, though, a little too much. The book occasionally gave us pieces of history that, while interesting, did little to add to the story at hand beyond giving some background information that we could have done just as well without. It felt at times like I was taken out of the story and handed one of the many books from the met’Oc library shelves and told to hurry up and understand the intricacies of what was going on.

Part mystery, part history, The Hammer mostly tells the story of Gignomai, part of the exhiled met’Oc family, unsatisfied at home for reasons that remain mysterious and nebulous until the last quarter of the novel. He runs away from the life of genteel poverty that he’s known and takes up a place in town, where people aren’t so fond of the met’Oc but are willing to tolerate Gig, especially once he presents to them an idea to build a factory to produce goods so that the town can become self-sufficient and stop relying on Home and its exorbitant taxes for all their supplies.

And while this is most certainly something that Gig intended, it’s also a cover for something far more sinister, the plans of a man obsessed with justice and revenge for his family’s wrongdoing years prior.

Gig’s motives, reasons, and justifications for his actions leave him somewhere between protagonist and antagonist when it comes to classifications. He intends outright murder, and even he admits it, and he weaves convoluted set-ups to further his goals that endanger lives and livelihoods, and he shows an almost cheerful disregard for any consequence that isn’t directly related to what he ultimately intends. He’s a complex character, that’s for certain, as are most of the characters in the book. But for all his complexities, his presenation felt rather flat to me.

This probably had a lot to do with the writing style. Parker wavered between third-person limited and third-person omniscient throughout the book, which left the peculiar impression of getting to know a character while still watching them from a distance, enough to keep yourself detached from the action. Entire scenes were set up as though someone was reading passages from a history textbook or reporting on local news, and then two paragraphs later we’d get snippets of the inner thoughts and workings of characters’ minds. It was hard to know where I stood with this novel half the time. Characters had clear definitions but I couldn’t get a feel for them. Motives were fascination, revelations intriguing, and yet I couldn’t quite bring myself to care much. This was the book’s biggest downfall, and it didn’t leave the most favourable impression on me.

While the plot was interested and the characters complex and real, it still suffered a little too much in other areas for me to come away with a favourable impression. Shame, because clearly the author’s got a sharp mind for detail. I suspect that this book is one for those who are already fans of the author’s work, and not a good one to cut your teeth on.

(Provided by the publisher for review via NetGalley)

2 comments on “The Hammer, by K J Parker

  1. Oh… :(

    “It was hard to know where I stood with this novel half the time. Characters had clear definitions but I couldn't get a feel for them … This was the book's biggest downfall.”

    While for me, that all was its strongest suit: the ever-present sense that there was more going on under the hood than I could tell. As indeed there was, in terms of character and narrative.

    But to each their own, of course! KJ Parker won't be to everyone's tastes, sure enough, but s/he caters to mine quite wonderfully.

    Nicely done Ria, by the way – sidestepping the tiresome mystery pronoun game the whole genderless pseudonym thing creates in every other review.

  2. Pingback: First Impressions: You Only Get One | Bibliotropic

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