It is very easy, when choosing a book that you would consider “the most underrated book you have read”, to feel that you could say this about half the books you own. I know I certainly do when glancing at my bookshelves. However, for a nice change, the answer to this one stuck out quite quickly for me, and there is quite a good chance that many of you will not have even heard of this author (which is, umm, kind of the point of this particular blog entry, I suppose).
Devices and Desires by K.J.Parker (not to be confused with other books of the same name, particularly one by P.D.James) is the start of a fantasy trilogy called The Engineer Trilogy (which continues with Evil for Evil and The Escapement). Now as I think I mentioned in an earlier blog (I think? Maybe I didn’t…anyway), I am pretty picky when it comes to fantasy books. I like them, but there is a lot of rubbish in that genre, and a lot of readers of fantasy seem to limit themselves to it. For me, it probably accounts for less than a tenth of my total book collection, so what little fantasy I do have is stuff that I really enjoy. This book got me hooked onto the mysterious author that is K.J.Parker – which is in fact a pseudonym for the author, who we know little about other than some of the jobs they have done, and, most curiously, they seem to have purposely not revealed their gender (a fact I won’t go into at this point). Parker now has 12 books, 9 of which are parts of trilogies, the latest three all being stand-alone novels, and all of them are excellent.
The story follows Ziani Vaatzes, an engineer who is forced into exile from his home city, the home of a huge empire, all because of a petty transgression of the guild laws regarding how the engineers must build certain items. Torn away from his wife and children, he comes up with a plot to be reunited with his family, a vengeful plot which will see the fall of entire kingdoms in the process. In an interview, Parker admitted that this whole trilogy is really just about love, that the driving force behind not only Ziani but other main characters is always love, or the loss of love, and that in each case it seems to wield an almost ridiculous, but somehow believable, destructive force. What I also love about this book and its sequels is that while it contains the made up history and geography with a medieval feel that is so common to fantasy novels, there is not a trace of magic, making it considerably more convincing. K.J.Parker also has a long history of actually making the weapons and other objects in the books so as to gain a genuine feel for how they work when it comes to describing them in the story, and this certainly makes a difference when reading this epic saga.
If you like fantasy and you want a book that is different, definitely try this book, and this author. If you don’t like fantasy, I would still recommend trying this book, as it is all humans and all feels very real, and is most definitely a severely underrated book.
What books have you read that you feel are underrated? Do you find a lot of underrated books you have stumbled across fall into a particular genre? I’d love to hear from you!