Devices and Desires: The Engineer Trilogy Book
(Orbit, £12.99, 548 pages, trade paperback, published 28 April
2005. Orbit, £7.99, 706 pages, paperback, January 2006)
subtle, and ruthless, the Perpetual Republic of Mezentia is a near-perfect
industrial realm, in near-perfect control of much of the world. From
the workshops and factories of their Guildsmen stream goods in infinite
variety; stamped and chiselled, hammered, forged, woven and carved.
Their river is domesticated to power a thousand intricately interacting
water-wheels and the nations all around are just as intricately bound
into a net of commercial subservience. They exist, so far as the Mezentians
are concerned, to buy what they have to sell.
From Mezentia, fleeing execution for an infraction of Guild rules,
comes Ziani Vaatzes, a Guild foreman, and Engineer of perverse genius.
It isn't that Ziani wants revenge. What he wants is to see his wife
and daughter (necessarily abandoned in Mezentia) again. But to do that
he'll have to take many difficult and dangerous steps, and cause a very
large amount of pain, fear, and death, because the Guilds not only want
to kill him for the rule he broke, they also want to kill him because
of the knowledge he carries in his head of Mezentia's technologies,
which cannot be allowed to fall into the hands of the neighbouring Barbarian
This story has the structure of a particularly intricate set of falling
dominos. To get what he wants Ziani has to knock over servants into
merchants, who then knock over lords into Duchesses, into Dukes, into
Generals, into armies, which succeed, or fail, or flounder about in
a welter of blood and ignorance out of which (he hopes) Ziani will pop,
just one short step closer to where he wants to be (back in Mezentia
with his family).
So he lies, and schemes, manipulates and deceives, building up people,
and machines, only to cut them ruthlessly down when they have served
his purpose. On the sidelines, of course, a dozen other characters,
countries, political factions, interests and intriguers are also pursuing
their goals, yet seemingly mere puppets on a string (within the limits
of acceptable engineering tolerances, of course) to Ziani's needs.
There is also, of course, the usual element of satire that graces Parker's
work. This time it seems that Corporatism is up for the chop. Perhaps
one could even say that Globalisation, the voracious, soulless demands
of the modern making/marketing/selling/profiting machine we live in,
is under attack (and not before time!).
But does it make a good book? Well, this story is not up to the exceptionally
high mark that Parker set in his last work, the excellent and appalling
Scavenger Trilogy. There is painstaking detail, but there is not much
fresh invention. There is intrigue and betrayal, but this is nothing
new. It lacks, definitely, the air of sinister mystery that made the
Scavenger books so compelling.
Above all there is a troublesome problem of credibility. Ziani is brilliant,
but he is also lucky, perhaps too lucky. He has so many balls to juggle,
so many dupes to trick into jumping through so many hoops, and some
of them are so very far outside his active control, that it becomes
very hard to credit (even with lengthy explanations) just how he is
achieving his ends.
In all a slightly strange read. In places witty, in places elegant,
in places clever; briskly satirical, dark, and tinged with obsession
near to madness in the person of its principal character, it remains
a touch unconvincing and occasionally laboured. Good, but not great.
Elsewhere in infinity plus: