How could I not automatically love a book where the first line is: “The quickest way to a man’s heart,’ said the instructor, ‘is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.” It was love at first sight. K.J. Parker’s Devices and Desires is a complex, quickly moving book that is filled with what I am quickly discovering to be Parker’s unique, cynical voice (and I do love dry cynicism).
This book is told from several points of view, but the main plot is about engineers and the importance of the machines they make. Parker deftly constructs his/her chapters so each one lies atop the last like another cog in a great machine. Perhaps one of the most artful parts of the plot is that no matter how complex the devices get, the force that is responsible for all the change and movement taking place is profoundly simple and easy to overlook: love.
The main character of the book, Ziani, is captivatingly complex. He’s an obsessive genius, driven by his family’s love of creating machines. The sheer maverick genius and ruthless cunning of Ziani astounded me. In the hands of a lesser author, this character would have probably fallen flat. Instead, he’s alive, believable, breathing and his shocking intelligence is absolutely ruthless.
The plot of Devices and Desires is full of twists and turns. Parker has the ability to take events that at first seem inconsequential and weave them into the plot so that they are important to the conclusion of the story. While some readers might be frustrated with this book, with the (at times) lack of action and apparently inconsequential details, it’s worth pushing through Devices and Desires to see how it all works out in the end.
Devices and Desires is the first book of the Engineer Trilogy, but it doesn’t feel like a series book. It doesn’t fall into many of the familiar holes that mar many first books (agonizingly slow building plots, too much introduction, etc.). Sometimes I feel like I know exactly how a trilogy is going to end by reading the first book in it, but not this one. Parker’s world is too complex, and her characters are too colorful to be predictable.
There are a few authors whose books I read and then I have to sit back and think “how the hell does someone get blessed with a brain like that one?” Steven Erikson is one of them and now Parker has joined my list. This book is complex, quick moving, unpredictable and filled with astounding depth that is applicable both to the book and to the real world. Parker’s writing is nothing short of amazing. Reading Devices and Desires is like taking a walk through another world just as complex and fraught with light, dark and gray as our own. If, sometimes, the plot does seem to get bogged down with details, Parker quickly recovers and moves onward, each chapter adding a layer of depth and meaning to the overall plot. Put on your scuba gear before reading this. It’ll suck you in and pull you down into its fathomless depths.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.