Pulling the Wings Off Angels by K.J. Parker - Book Review

Write on: Sat, 14 Jan 2023 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 304

I love KJ Parker's works, and was in a mood for something more philosophical.

What to Expect

A novella that explores good and evil, predestination, free will vs original sin, and a plethora of other religious themed subjects, all packaged up in Parker's usual fantasy world (which feels like a Byzantine setup, a lot closer to history than the usual faux-mediaeval fantasy). Expect the typical Parker protagonist, getting dragged into the middle of things against his will, and dealing with issues of divinity. There's a bit of constructed arbitrary rules that Parker uses to set up the scene, but that's why it's fantasy - the point isn't the 'magic system' (there isn't, really) but rather the philosophical implications of choice and sin.

What I liked

I love Parker's style in general, his attention to details in the world that feels like our own (for all it's ugly, complex mess), and his characters that are far more realistic than angst-driven teenage sword-fighting wonders. This is definitely a novella to make you think, not a page-turning adventure romp. Still, there is the dry humour, the philosophy, the exploration of human themes that are the essence of speculation in the best of speculative fiction.

What to be aware of

This isn't for those who get easily offended by religious exploration, and putting a crooked mirror to the tenant of their belief system (particularly Christian).

Also as typical to some of Parker's writing, the protagonist - while a realistic person and easy to empathise with - isn't the action-driven hero we normally expect and appreciate in our from fantasy entertainment. He mopes quite a bit, which fits the theme of exploring what's fair and what isn't, of fighting predestination.

Felix's Review

Felix wasn't particularly impressed, either with the protagonist, Saloninus (the smartest man alive), or god and his angels. His experience does lead him to expect the latter two -- god and Saloninus -- to be bastards, and he never expected any fairness. But in the end, Felix felt that the story was neither here nor there, forcibly showing a problem which makes the resolution seem detached.


This is for the KJ Parker fans, who love his more metaphysical, speculative explorations. It's a good read if you're in the mood, but if you want more gripping adventures I'd highly recommend starting with Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City.

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


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