By K.J. Parker



390pp/$18.99/October 2023

Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead
Cover by Lauren Panepinto

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead is the first book of a trilogy by K.J. Parker. It focuses on the title character, who leads a team of professional scavengers who bid on the scavenge rights for battlefields and strip the dead of anything worthwhile in order to fix and sell it afterwards. The first book serves to introduce Saevus Corax, the world he lives in, and several of the secrets he has been keeping from his closest friends.

The first thing we learn about Saevus Corax is that he is an unreliable narrator, the type of protagonist who often appears in Parker's works. By the end of the first chapter, we have learned that, although Corax is competent at his job of battle-field scavenging, he is also nowhere near as clever or careful as he would like to portray himself. Although he doesn't lead an easy life, He is comfortable with who he is and what he does. Of course, something has to change which leads him to a series of adventures in which Corax finds himself mostly reacting to the actions of others, often finding himself at the mercies of his potential enemies. Throughout the book, he has some clue as to what will happen to him although the reader, who is lacking the knowledge of Corax's past, cannot predict the twists and turns of the plot.

Many of the themes in Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead are ones Parker has previously explored in How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It, and, in fact, Parker makes a brief reference to the events of that book, noting that they took place in Corax's distant past and have passed on into the realm of myth. Despite the surface similarities, Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead is a very different book, looking at war as a business proposition and offering a tour of his world as Saevus Corax finds himself transported around the world, often against his will. In fact, throughout the novel, Saevus Corax lacks autonomy. Often under the control of his enemies, he sees his plans undermined and often is forced to simply wait out the situation, relying on the fact that his death would be a worse alternative for whoever happens to have him in their control at any given moment than keeping him alive.

However, he has the instincts of a con man, as well as an understanding of the way the world works beneath surface appearances. While his enemies are concerned with those surface appearances and where their next paycheck is coming from, Saevus Corax has an unbreakable faith that things will work out for him because of his understanding of destiny and the political realities that most of his enemies either overlook or are unaware of. Rather than reading to find out how Saevus Corax saves himself, the reader continues to discover how the dice will continue to fall in his favor.

Billed as the first book of a trilogy, Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead stands up very well on its own. Most of the major plot twists are resolved by the end of the book, although Parker leaves enough threads hanging that the story can easily continue through the subsequent volumes. This first novel subverts the reader's expectations of who Saevus Corax is, and having built up a more complete picture of the character, it will be interesting to see how Parker continues to do so in the next novel, as well as the twists and turns that inevitably await.

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