The Devil You Know: Saloninus makes a deal with the Devil

The Devil You Know by K.J. Parker fantasy book reviewsThe Devil You Know by K.J. Parker

Everything that K.J. Parker writes automatically goes on my TBR list. So when I picked up The Devil You Know, I figured I was in for a treat but I didn’t realize that the novella is a sequel to Blue and Gold, one of my favorite Parker stories. You don’t need to read Blue and Gold to enjoy The Devil You Know, but you may as well, since it’s such a great story. But don’t worry; I won’t spoil it here.

In Blue and Gold we met Saloninus, a wily philosopher and alchemist who was commissioned to perform the two ultimate alchemical feats: creating the elixir of life and turning base metal into gold. In the first sentence of the book, he informed us that he had murdered his wife and we soon learned that he is an unreliable narrator and not a very nice human being.

The Devil You Know takes place years later. Saloninus is getting old but he hasn’t managed to finish his work. He just needs more time. So the atheistic philosopher summons and makes a deal with a junior demon who admires Saloninus’s work. For 20 more years of youth and protection, Saloninus will give his soul to the Devil when he eventually dies. What is Saloninus working on? As the years go by, the demon becomes increasingly worried about that and wonders if the deal with Saloninus, the cleverest man on Earth, is going to backfire.

The Devil You Know is diverting, though not as clever and intricate as Blue and Gold. I don’t think the logic of the plot held up as well as I’ve come to expect from Parker and I had a hard time believing in the final reveal. It’s been a while since I read Blue and Gold, but I also didn’t think Saloninus felt like the same person in this sequel. Another small complaint is that the prose felt too modern for the setting, something that was obviously intentional but that nonetheless was occasionally jarring. Still, I was entertained by watching the characters deal with each other, I liked how Parker used alchemy as a metaphor, and I always enjoy Parker’s ideas and sense of humor.

The audio version I listened to was produced by Macmillan Audio. It’s three hours long and read by Will Damron. The story alternates perspectives between Saloninus and the demon, which each character telling the story in first person point of view. While Damron has a pleasant voice and excellent acting skills, there were several times when he did not switch voices when the perspective suddenly changed and I became confused about which character was talking. After looking at the print version, I suspect that the confusion is intentional since the changes in perspective are not clearly marked. Parker wants us to figure this out for ourselves, but it’s hard for an audio reader to do that when the narrator hasn’t made the switch. Overall the strengths of Damron’s performance far outweigh the negatives, but I’m not sure that the audio version is worth its extra cost.

Published March 1, 2016. The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care. But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the philosopher is Saloninus–the greatest philosopher, yes, but also the greatest liar, trickster and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust. He’s almost certainly up to something; but what?

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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4 comments

  1. It’s interesting to me that you respond totally differently to K.J. Parker and Tom Holt’s works, as though they really are two people. Do you have to do any mental juggling to separate the authorial identities as you read?

    • No, they seem like two completely different people, which is I guess why he is using a pseudonym. But I have only read one or two books by Tom Holt and it’s entirely possible that I’d like his other work as much as I like Parker if I read it. Which I will someday, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

  2. I don’t think I’ve read anything by the Tom Holt persona.

    • Holt’s work reminds me of Douglas Adams’ in that the satire sometimes feels like beating a dead horse (yes, we get it, you think certain things are ridiculous–let’s move on, please), and there’s a serious dearth of female characters. If you can set those qualities aside, Holt’s stuff is worth checking out of the library, but I wouldn’t recommend buying them sight unseen.

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