By K.J. Parker



350pp/$17.99/January 2022

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World
Cover by Lauren Panepinto

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World concludes the rather loose trilogy K.J. Parker began in Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City. It is a loose trilogy because each book has a different narrator and, while the first two books both deal directly with the siege of the City, capitol of the once mighty Robur empire, Felix, the narrator of A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, may be the last surviving member of the Robur race, a translator assigned to the distant capitol of the Echman, whose life is only spared because of the intercession of a Hus princess whose life he wound up saving. Some of the issues with the trilogy become more apparent in the final volume, but at the same time, this book has more breadth than the earlier books, which were limited in scope by focusing their action within the walls of the City.

Initially, Felix only knowns about what happened to the City from rumors and the reactions of the few other Robur who are living in the Echman capitol. He quickly realizes the Hus are his only means of survival, which is threatened with the Echman decide that the Hus and other similar tribes should be enslaved in order to build a massive wall to keep out various "savage" races. Using his knowledge of the Hus, the Echman, and military tactics as gleaned from reading books in the Echman library during the years since he got word of the destruction of the Robur, Felix is able to guide his Hus employees, succeeded at nearly every turn and being recognized as a prophet along the way.

Despite leading the Hus, and eventually other tribes, in battle against the Echman, there is remarkably little conflict in A Practical Guide to Conquering the World. Nearly everything Felix undertakes proves to be successful for him. The joy of the book is seeing how this translator manages to come up with ideas to keep himself safe and prospering, and how he is willing to bring other people along with him in an effort to maintain a place for himself in a world that has rejected his race.

According to The Secret History of the Mongols, the primary source of knowledge of the life and conquests of Genghis Khan, he did not set out to conquer the world, but was forced to do so by events and his culture, in which he constantly had to avenge slights against him. In many ways, the same can be said for Felix. Like Genghis Khan, Felix is carried along by events. He does what he does because he doesn't believe he has a choice. Also like Genghis Khan, Felix is the driving force behind everything that happens. His need to survive causes his world to change and, since Felix is the sole narrator, it would appear it changes for the better for most people, although one of the underlying themes of the entire trilogy is that Parker's narrators should never be considered reliable. Even when they are adhering to the facts that happened, Felix points out, using the Sashan's as his springboard, that truth is rather amorphous.

Parker's novels written under the name Tom Holt have often been compared to the works of Terry Pratchett, which often simply means that the works ia a humorous fantasy novel. In many ways, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World more closely parallel's Pratchett's writing, using a light and humorous touch to explore serious issues, in this case racism, truth, genocide, and self-determinism. There is an underlying knowledge of history throughout the series, but especially in A Practical Guide to Conquering the World. If the narrators, especially Felix, appear to be a little too competent and too successful, that can be laid at Parker's insistence that they are unreliable.

Set away from the City with the siege a distant and rumored reality, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World has the same tone as the earlier novels, but doesn't entirely feel like the final book of a trilogy. As Felix progresses through his career, Parker begins to introduce links to the earlier works which tie the novel closer to those books without sacrificing its separate identity, which serves to drive home the size of the world Parker has created. When Orhan introduced the Robur Empire in the first novel, it seemed like it was the center of the world. By the time Felix, a Robur living in exile, discusses it, the mighty empire is merely a distant state with a limited influence where he is, much as Roman influence was weaker in Central Asia even at its height.

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