Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by KJ Parker

A quick and fun read that tries to be a little different. Recommended for those that prefer books about military strategy rather than those that crave strong fantasy elements.
Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City book cover

This was so much fun. I could tell that K.J Parker had a real laugh when writing it. Orhan is a great character, and although he is hilariously out of his depth his keen mind allows him to pull through a rather tricky situation, though not without several awkward blunders. 

Orhan is an engineer, not a military man, and he finds himself leading the defence of a city he doesn’t really care about. He’s got no real experience giving battlefield orders; he’s used to organising men to build bridges and walls not commanding them to defend a city. And he knows about his own shortcomings, but he steps into command because there’s nobody else to do it. He doesn’t want to be in charge, he simply has to or the city will fall and everybody in it will be put the sword. He is forced to act the role of general in an Empire he hates. 

So, it makes for a somewhat unusual situation which only gets more complicated when he learns exactly who is leading the invading army. I shall give no spoilers, but it certainly makes the siege more difficult, a siege that would have been over in a matter of hours had Orhan not taken charge. He is cunning, resourceful and a born liar which gives him a unique skill set. A military man, driven by honour, may not have possessed the savviness to bring a city full of cut-throats to heel. It’s no easy job because Orhan is a white-skin, a second-class citizen, trying to rule over the elite blue-skins that hate his guts. He must get creative to succeed. 

The book is told in the first person and is driven entirely by Orhan’s personality. Both book and protagonist are not afraid of breaking the rules. Orhan admits to being a liar, and he even admits that his story may have been exaggerated. He’s telling it so why not give himself a little bit more glory? Why not make himself sound more dangerous? There’s certainly a streak of unreliable narration running through it giving it an added edge. I could make several guesses over which points were true and which were false, which bespeaks the level of immersion I felt whilst reading. However, this type of writing is a double-edged sword. Without wanting to go into any specific details, I found the ending a little frustrating. It leaves it at a bit of a cliff-hanger as Orhan’s part in the story comes to an end. It would have been good to know what happens after even if it was only a summary paragraph of some sort. But, again, this is trying to be different. I’m pretty sure K.J Parker set out to challenge his readers with those final few paragraphs, though I have come away a little annoyed as I want to know what happens next! It works though, Orhan's personality demands such a selfish action.

All in all, this is a quick and fun read that tries to be a little different. Recommended for those that prefer books about military strategy rather than those that crave strong fantasy elements. 

Many thanks to Orbit for sending me a (surprise) review copy and introducing me to an author I may have otherwise missed. 

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Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City reader reviews

from England, UK


The book is a fun, quick read. You can't help liking the lying, cheating, conniving, industrious, resourceful, philandering, teetotal coward that is Orhan. I would recommend this as the sort of book you can get into lying on a beach, commuting to work, bedtime wind-down reading or simply something to curl up with and laugh at for fun. It's a great read and an observation on leadership in challenging environments where vested interests and pig ignorance all conspire against your deep seated and illogical loyalty to those that treat you like chattel. Orhan's end to the tale was ... unexpected, and frustrating in many ways as you come to be invested in him and what happens to the thankless, feuding citizens he's determined to protect beyond the details alluded to and sketched out. This said, there is technically scope for a sequel - I'd love to see something like "Seventeen Ways To Build A Bridge Under Enemy Fire (and have fun doing so)" - If 'K J Parker' is reading this - you can have that title or any derivative therein - just as long as you give us a sequel of Orhan and the Imperial Regiment of Engineers.

8.4/10 from 2 reviews

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