Blue and Gold: Fast, intense, and dramatic

fantasy book reviews K.J. Parker Blue and GoldBlue and Gold by K.J. Parker

Talk about unreliable narrators! If you like that technique, you’re sure to enjoy K.J. Parker’s Blue and Gold. It’s a fast, intense, and dramatic little book that will entertain you for an afternoon.

Saloninus is probably the cleverest alchemist who ever lived (or is he?). After publishing several important (?) papers and losing his tuition money, he drops out of the university and begins a life of crime, then gets commissioned by the prince to figure out how to do two things: 1. Produce the elixir of eternal youth and 2. Turn base metal into gold. During the process, though, he accidentally (?) poisons his beautiful and brilliant wife, so now he’s on the run and he’s pretty stressed-out.

Blue and Gold
’s plot is told in a series of scenes that take place in the present and past as Saloninus gradually fills in more and more detail and occasionally corrects his previous misstatements. His scientific, yet unethical (perhaps even sociopathic), voice is fascinating. He doesn’t let us in on some important facts, and every time he adjusts the story we get a fresh — but not necessarily more accurate — perspective. It’s hard to know whether we’re supposed to be for or against Saloninus; all we know is that we can’t trust him. How can you trust someone who knowingly publishes scholarly papers based on faulty logic? And who won’t tell you who he is or what his goals and purposes are? It’s good that this novella is short, because this might not work in a longer story. Fortunately, Saloninus comes clean in the end, so you needn’t worry about an ambiguous conclusion.

I enjoyed the setting of Blue and Gold. It’s that cozy academic scene that I love: writing theses, studying, attending lectures, consulting advisers, gaining life-long friends. I’ve washed plenty of beakers, weighed my share of powdery chemicals, and sat at numerous lab benches. It felt so real here. I don’t know who K.J. Parker is, but (s)he knows what (s)he’s talking about. Throughout Blue and Gold, the science of alchemy is used as a metaphor for the passage of time, spending money, rising and declining social status, personality development, falling in love, and death.

Blue and Gold
is a fast-paced, gripping, excellently written story, which will be especially enjoyed by those who appreciate unreliable narrators and who feel nostalgic about academic settings.

Blue and Gold — (2010) Publisher: “Well, let me see,” I said, as the innkeeper poured me a beer. “In the morning I discovered the secret of changing base metal into gold. In the afternoon,I murdered my wife.” For a man as remarkable as the philosopher Saloninus, it’s just another day. Of course, we only have his word for it, and Saloninus has been known to be creative with the truth. Little white lies are inevitable expedients when you’re one jump ahead of the secret police and on thebrink of one of the greatest discoveries in the history of alchemy. Buy why would a scientist with the world’s most generous, forgiving patron be so desperate to run away? And what, if anything, has blue got to do with gold?

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KAT HOOPER is a professor at the University of North Florida where she teaches neuroscience, psychology, and research methods courses. She occasionally gets paid to review scientific textbooks, but reviewing speculative fiction is much more fun. Kat lives with her husband and their children in Jacksonville Florida.

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2 comments

  1. I want this book! I’ve only read Purple and Black by this author, but it really impressed me, and I seem to hear nothing but good things about his/her other works.

  2. I’m regretting sending my copy to Ruth. :-)

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