Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Inside Man by K.J. Parker

I think this is a sequel. It's isn't exactly coy about it, but it is, let us say, strategically vague on the subject. But all of the details line up. It might as well be a sequel. We can read it as a sequel.

Although....any book narrated by a demon must have some seed of doubt in it, right?

K.J. Parker's Prosper's Demon was the story of an exorcist, in an early-Renaissance world that was not our Europe, but was very parallel. (Monarchies turning into vaguer autocracies, almost steam-engine time, actual demons from actual hell possessing people and needing to be cast back out.) Our narrator was not a good man in any way, but he did have the power to compel demons to vacate human minds, which is both useful and rare. He tangled a lot with one particular demon, who he found in his mind before birth, as soon as he was aware of anything - and, as is the nature of an exorcist, always bested that demon.

Other things happened in that novella, but that's the through-line: one human exorcist, one immortal demon, scheming against each other, each other's best enemies.

Inside Man is...well, again, it's not officially a sequel. As in Demon, there is an unnamed human exorcist and an unnamed demon. They're not necessarily the same. We cannot prove it.

But they are. We assume they are; we believe they are. We read the story because they are.

This time, the demon is our narrator. And he, of course, has a different point of view than the exorcist did: he's embedded in a complex organizational structure, all the way up to the Highest, full of bureaucracy: the whole Screwtape thing we're all familiar with. He has no free will, you see; he has a pleasant voice and a sophisticated point of view, but everything he does is because of wheels within wheels, blah blah blah, ineffable something and unknowable something else, who art thou to etc., and so on to the fall of a sparrow.

That's a tough position for a main character: essentially powerless in an powerless world, caught up in chains of requirement that bind everyone and everything. It works for the course of a novella, but I don't know if I'd want to spend much longer than that: it's very constricting.

This demon has his jobs to do. Man, as far as I can tell, takes place primarily after Demon, but the big ending of Demon is never mentioned. But don't worry: there's a bigger ending here.

Much bigger, I could say. In implications, certainly.

I don't think I should say much more than that. I didn't find Man as much immediate, chortling fun to read as Demon, but it's thornier, more theologically detailed, and it delves into some things implied in the first book. This one is also not quite so quotable as Demon, or at least I didn't find it so. But it sticks the landing very well.

There may be a third, I suppose: never bet against a third. But I don't think so. I think there were two sides, and we learned both their stories. And now we are done.

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