How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It (The Siege #2) by K.J. Parker - Book Review

Write on: Tue, 08 Sep 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 3601

I've read the previous novel (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City) just recently, and there was just no doubt I'd read this one as soon as it comes out.

What to Expect

Events in this book take place seven years after the previous one, with the The City still besieged all around by the horde camped outside its walls (although luckily they have the sea port open). Some of the important characters from the previous novel are still quite active in managing all the warfare side, and life, as they say, goes on.

The story is again in first-person POV, this time following a two-bit actor and playwright who gets dragged in (against his better judgement and best efforts) to all the cutthroat politics of the city and the war. Expect some major twists and reversals as he tries to survive and do right (by himself).

What I liked

As before, I love the deep influences of Byzantine culture, without it being actual historical. The prose and character are engaging from the first page, the world-building is spectacular, and the plot is both fast and deep.

This novel also has a lot of social criticism like the previous one, albeit on different subjects. The fantasy element is that it's a different world, not a what-if about magic. Parker uses it as a vehicle to explore issues of both ancient and modern society - truth, beauty, politics, war, art, etc. It is a deep novel, one that can make you think, not just tear through for the adventure.

What to be aware of

This story is more about palace culture, about the politics of running a Byzantine city-empire than the military siege-craft which was the subject of the first book. There is a lot of social criticism in the importance people put on art and artists (with the obligatory in-jokes for authors, besmirching the writing of the previous novel), about what's real and what's an act, about the roles that people fulfil privately and publicly. It's definitely a novel to read and think about.

The ending is again one of those "had to happen this way" twists, though thankfully not as brutal as in the previous novel. Definitely finishing on a different, more positive, tone

Felix's Review

Felix's culture (based on Ancient Rome) had an ambivalent relationship with theatre and actors. Everyone loved the theatre, but actors were considered a only one step up from those who clean the sewers. There was even a famous incident where the respectable crowd stampeded out of a play by Terrence because someone spread the rumour it'll have rope-walkers and mummery (something that Felix witnessed first hand).

Still, his cynical side won, and he loved to see one of the "common people" who got dragged into politics manage to put one over the ruling elite, and twist things to his (and his fellows) benefit.


Highly recommended original fantasy, recommended for anyone who'd like a bit more depth than just adventure. Do read Sixteen Way to Defend a Walled City first if you haven't.



Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He's the protagonist of the Toags, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of paranormal detective on a background of ancient Rome.

Last modified on Saturday, 07 November 2020 02:10

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr