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The Escapement is the third and final part of the Engineer trilogy by English author KJ Parker, nominally placed in the fantasy genre this series is more an alternate history than fantasy.
The first two books in the series Devices and Desires and Evil for Evil introduced us to the Mezentines with their love of rules and regulations, the Eremenians and Valens with their feudal medieval lifestyle and now the Arun Chandal who are classic Mongolian hordes. All have become embroiled in a war instigated by the Duke of Eremenia Orsea when he invaded the far more advanced Mezentines, given a sound defeat he meets a Mezentine on the run in engineer Ziani Vaartaz. Ziani promises to give Eremenia the edge and a arms war begins, first Eremeria is defeated, then Valens makes a deal with the Aruch Chandal and now the Mezentia are in trouble.
That's the events in the first two novels; we meet Ziani and his apparent wish to make his former country pay for being accused of heresy because he made a mechanised doll out of allowed plans. This is not allowed in Mezentine society and he is given the death sentence, he escapes and appears to want to destroy his former city. Along the way, Eremenians once central characters in the novel's have become peripheral and the Duke of Valens has become the other main character.
This novel brings to conclusion the struggles of the engineer Vaartaz to return to his home city, along the way we have come to see that Mezentia is a kind of machine obsessed Rome, Valens a kind of noble Vandals and arun chandal are simply barbarous desert living fools. The author loves to give plenty of details over the precise mechanical processes of war, the style of field artillery and always seeks to give the feel of a Victorian Britain meeting a Roman society. The novel doesn't in truth have a central character; even Vaartaz has a peripheral feel with none of the characters given more page time than others. He seems to want to make the war and the art of war as the main focus of the novel, he also enjoys playing with the emotions of the characters none are unthinking and brutish and all seem to have a grasp on consequence, perspectives and how the future will rate their activities.
This is a noble attempt but does have the slight effect of making all the characters talk in the same voice, they all appear to have the same intelligence and desires, one clever mood is to give the engineer of the title a perceived position in the book, we only get to know what Vaartaz is doing through the eyes of others. His actions, desires and plotting are unknown until he reveals his hand.
This is to be honest very very clever writing and places modern concerns and desires into an apparent medieval society, the author clearly wants us to consider what would have happened if a Roman style society hadn't fallen and instead grown to become obsessed with specifications, tolerances and rules. If the Roman society had continued with it's military advantages what would have happened when they met the Russians or the Vikings in the 13-15th century? A fascinating concept.
The novel ends well and brings together all the plots and little stories with a nice conclusion and gives the reader a feeling that his questions have been answered. KJ Parker is one of the better fantasy writers at the moment; he is consistently readable and writes well considered and balanced novels. He also doesn't feel the need to use magic, vampires, dwarves or any of the standard fantasy fare to give his books more colours. I hope he continues in this manner and look forward to the next book.