Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man.
He is ruthless, cunning, and above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he's only ever made one mista
One mistake, though, can be enough.
I am ashamed to admit that I was very skeptical of The Folding Knife when I first started it. I’d never heard of K.J. Parker and I read some reviews online (which is something I have learned to never do until AFTER I read a book) which were roughly 50/50 split between good and terrible. Anyway, I’m ashamed of my skepticism and have officially hereby declared myself a fan of K.J. Parker (whoever he/she might be – my bet is that it’s J.K. Rowling haha)
The Folding Knife follows the life of Basso, the First Citizen of the Vesani city-state. Parker does nearly flawless world building, using Roman and Byzantine foundations for the creation of Visani. At first I was skeptical on how this would work out but the decision to use well known foundations for a brand new world was smart on Parker’s behalf. While the world was new enough to keep me interested, it was also familiar enough that I didn’t spend a ton of time puzzling out new terms, traditions and ways of life thus allowing me to focus more on the plot and characters.
Religion takes a back seat in this book. If there is any, it is not a huge plot point which was very refreshing to me. Most of the book focuses on political, personal and philosophical growth and struggles. Fans of magic filled fantasy (sword and sorcery) should look elsewhere. This book has no real magic to speak of, or prophecy and while there are wars fought, there is no struggling hero with a blood-dripping sword to fill pages and pages of text. In this case, the classical world with no supernatural or heavy religion was an actual benefit, keeping the plot relatable, interesting and yet new and fresh enough to appeal to readers who might not be into fantasy as well as those who are.
Basso quickly became one of my favorite characters in fantasy. For fans of the Malazan, Book of the Fallen series, Basso reminded me heartily of a mixture of Tehol and Bugg, which is quite possibly why I like him so much. Parker imbued Basso with a sense of dry, back handed humor which I absolutely loved (admittedly, I am a fan of all things cynical). The book is filled with a level of humor so dry and subtle I actually went on Twitter at a few points to ask other readers of this book if I should actually be finding it as funny as I did, or if I was some psychopath because I found it humorous. While the actual plot of the book is incredibly serious, it is peppered with enough dry wit and sarcasm that fans of that sort of thing will find the serious plot easier to endure and enjoy.
As I stated before, this book follows the life of Basso. Basso is lucky beyond measure and absolutely merciless. The book is deep. Surface readers who aren’t into reading into plots or finding morals in stories will probably find the dialogue, daily routines and detailed descriptions tedious. For readers who like to read into the depths, this is a fascinating book about a man who relies too much on luck and…. Well read and find out. The Folding Knife is truly humbling and an absolutely riveting journey through the annals of success and failure. It will stay with me a long time after I have closed the final pages.
Basso is, in my opinion, one of the most complex, well rounded characters I’ve read in quite a while. He is merciless, absolutely cunning and functions on an amazingly high level of intellect; but also a hero and a do-gooder to many. He runs Vesani like a bank and while at times I felt the descriptions of the bank in particular got monotonous and hard to understand (numbers are a foreign concept to me), the overall flow and well-thought-out plot as well as believable, cynical and humorous dialogue made this book easy to devour.
The Folding Knife is a book to savor. The writing is amazing, the characters are so well flushed that I actually didn’t want to close the book on them – ever. The story is profound, deep, a ride of emotion and thought. Parker managed to balance a serious plot and dramatic situations with enough humor to make the darkness seem not so overbearing. It is a true work of art.
I’m officially a fan of K.J. Parker. I hope all his/her books are this good. I can’t recommend this brilliant work enough.