By K.J. Parker



128pp/$13.99/June 2021

Inside Man
Cover by Sam Weber

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Inside Man is K.J. Parker's follow up novella to Prosper's Demon. While the first story is told from the point of view of an exorcist, this book is narrated by one of the demons, no more reliable that the earlier narrator, but more likeable and potentially more trustworthy. Although the relationship between the demon and the exorcist seems similar to the relationship depicted in the earlier book, the two individuals are not necessarily the same creatures.

The narrator of Inside Man is perfectly happy staying out of the limelight with the relatively low-key job it has been tasked with. The monks of the Third Horn have been endowed to say prayers for Sighvat the Third, a ruler who made up for the evil he did in life by giving money to the monastery. The demon's task is to distract the praying monks, for when they pause in their prayers or make mistakes, Sighvat's spirit finds itself temporarily tortured. Through the course of his work, the demon has become somewhat friendly with one of the monks, Eusebius.

The demon's life of relative ease, however, comes to an end when the Duke Ekkehard VI of Antecyra is given a gift of a beautifully ornamented copy of Saloninus's On the Genealogy of Morals instead of the psalter he was supposed to have received. Taught by his mother to read in secret so he could be sure he wasn't being cheated by his clerks and viziers, Ekkehard read the book and begins to question the religious truths he had been taught his entire life and begins to put a more humanistic morality into place in his duchy. The demon's exorcist nemesis specifically requests the demon's presence to possess Duke Ekkehard and return Antecyra to the path of the deity's Plan.

Parker uses this as an excuse to give much more background to his world that he was able to give in Prosper's Demon. His immortal narrator in Inside Man claims to have firsthand knowledge of the creation of Demons and the way the world works, which is much closer to the standard Christian theology than the first book seemed to indicate. Although Parker's narrator may be exaggerating its own importance, it does seem to be truthful in what it shares, including its own discovery that the divine plan that he is working to preserve with his exorcist nemesis may not actually exist.

Inside Man builds on the questions raised in Prosper's Demon. Parker's narrator acknowledges that while it suffered abuse at the hands of its nemesis, it also drove its nemesis to the extremes that caused the retaliation, acknowledging its own role in the never-ending cycle of hostility. Similarly, the narrator is well aware of its own role in the uprising against the deity, thinking of itself as the loyal opposition over the course of the millennia. Eventually, the narrator realizes that the same co-dependence it has with its nemesis also exists on an eternal scale between the forces of good and evil, if those words even really have any meaning.

Inside Man, along with Prosper's Demons, demonstrate that a story doesn't have to be long to raise and discuss a variety of moral issues. Moreover, Parker is able to raise his points in a way that gives the reader plenty of volition to come to their own conclusions about the morality of the topics, based on their own background, and, with luck, a consideration of different ways of looking at things, much as Duke Ekkehard had his own world turned around by reading a book that questioned the morality with which he was raised.

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