The Devil You Know

February 9, 2017 at 6:00 pm (Reads)

devilThe Devil You Know by K.J. Parker

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I have peculiar reading habits. I usually have at least one reading project going on at a given time, interspersed with other books from my backlog. Right now, my project is to get through all of the Star Wars Expanded Universe books, which should take me through the next four years. Of course, one reading project doesn’t stop me from buying more books, so it’s important for me to read other stuff in between so my backlog doesn’t get overwhelming. That’s why I make it a rule to pick a random book from my backlog in between my project books.

(And when I say random, I mean random: I have a list of all the books I have to read in a database, and I have a procedure that picks one randomly from the list whenever I need something new to read. This helps prevent the last-in, first-out problem I usually have, and ensures that older books aren’t overlooked. This is necessary when you have over 600 books — many of them series of books, like the Malazan or Eye of the World books, which are only entered once in the database — in your to-read stack.)

There are exceptions to this rule, though, which have to do with either series or authors. If I’ve started a series and a new book in that series comes out, it takes priority. This helps me stay on top of the series without too much time passing in between books. If a new book by an author I really like — Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Connie Willis, etc. — comes out, then it also takes priority. If multiples hit my reading radar at the same time, I just stack them in the order in which I receive them and start plugging away at them.

The reason I bring this up is because K.J. Parker is now one of those authors.

I didn’t expect this to be the case. I hadn’t heard of him before finding two of his novellas in my ebook collection (which reminds me, ebook novellas is the other reading project I have going on right now), but after finding a lot to like in The Last Witness and then enjoying the hell out of The Devil You Know, I’m convinced. The two books couldn’t be more different, either; where The Last Witness was a dark story with something important to say, The Devil You Know is more comedic, in a sardonic, wry kind of way. Both stories have an irreverence about them, but it’s much more prominent in The Devil You Know.

This novella is a twist on the Faustian bargain story, with a philosopher and a devil matching wits with each other over a contract. It’s a cat-and-mouse story, with each one trying to stay one step ahead of the other. What Parker does to make this new is play around with who the good guy and bad guy are. We start out thinking one thing, but slowly Parker turns it around on us, and then turns it a bit more. It’s like a heist movie where you can’t figure out who’s worse: the thieves or the casino owner.

Parker is considered a cult writer, and I can see why. His stories are tight and strong, but not on the level of mass-market consumption. Folks who like him have to discover him, either on their own or through friends, since his fiction isn’t the sort that winds up prominently displayed at the front of the bookstore.

On the other hand, I’ve found a new author to obsess over. Expect to read my thoughts on The Two of Swords later this year, since it’s (a) a series (b) of novellas (c) written by an author I really like. That’s definitely going to be taking priority.

Fortunate Musical Connection: “The Devil You Know” by Anthrax

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