Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead by K J Parker

October 20, 2023

From one of the most original voices in fantasy comes a twisted tale of murder, betrayal, and battlefield salvage.

There’s no formal training for battlefield salvage. You just have to pick things up as you go along. Swords, armour, arrows – and the bodies, of course.

Over the years, Saevus Corax has picked up a lot of things. Some of them have made him decent money, others have brought nothing but trouble. But it’s a living, and somebody has to deal with the dead.

This week, I’m taking a look at the recently released Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead by K J Parker. The story really couldn’t be simpler*. Saevus Corax has an uncanny knack for rubbing people up the wrong way. Cleaning up after battles should be a straightforward business, everyone who could cause a problem is usually dead, but after managing to irritate the two largest militant banking orders on the entire continent Saevus is forced to go on the run. Stumbling from one potentially lethal incident to the next, this joyfully chaotic series of ever-escalating events is a great deal of fun**.

More through luck than judgment, Saevus finds himself at the epicentre of everything. He’d rather go about his business and get onto the next job but fate has other ideas. In an effort to outwit his pursuers, Saevus has to try and always stay five or six steps ahead. It’s really not Saevus’ fault that the best course of action to keep himself alive almost inevitably coincides with doing the right thing. He’s adamant that he doesn’t care one way or the other. As long as his head remains firmly on his shoulders, he continues to breathe, and all the inside squidgy bits stay firmly inside he’ll do whatever it takes to maintain the status quo.

Upon reflection, I suspect that nothing is ever straightforward when it comes to Saevus Corax. I’m not sure our erstwhile protagonist can even be viewed as a hero. Unwitting hero at best, perhaps. It’s not that he’s bad perse but he’s not really a very good either. Put it this way, if a person can mark their worth in the world based on the number of enemies they have, then Saevus is a rich man indeed. The queue lining up to wish him harm does certainly seem impressively long. There also appear to be new people adding to the end of it every day. That all said, I’m also sure Saevus is the sort of person it would be great fun to socialise with. He’d likely lead you on a merry old pub crawl. I don’t doubt for a moment that Saevus would know all the best places to visit. I’m also fairly confident however you’d wake up the next morning in a cell and your wallet would be suspiciously absent.

Also along for the ride Saevus’ crew of associates are a grumpy, but essentially well-meaning, lot. There is a lot of money to be made after the outcome of any violent clash. As long as their boss treats them fairly, and does all the complicated thinking for them they are prepared to follow Saevus anywhere. It’s just as well, as it turns out he is going to need all the help he can get.

As an aside, I’ll admit that I’ve not read any of K J Parker’s other novels but if they’re on a par with this then I can only imagine they are jolly entertaining. I’ll need to go and check them out.

When it comes to fiction I firmly believe writing something funny is one of the trickiest tasks. Events in Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead are never laugh-out-loud funny, but then I’m not sure I expected them to be. This is the sort of fiction that elicits a wry smile or a knowing chuckle. Saevus is a creature of pure snark. He always has a barbed comment or witty rejoinder at hand. The comedy comes from Saevus often thinking he is the smartest person in the room and that not always being the case. He manages somehow to be irritating, charming and endearing in the same breath.  In a similar vein to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman, there is a delightfully roughish charm to Saevus Corax that means you can’t help but grin at his latest outlandish utterance.

Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead is published by Orbit and is available now. It’s the first book in a trilogy so there will definitely be more to come. How very splendid.

My musical recommendation to accompany this novel is the soundtrack to the game Ruined King by Garth Coker. It’s a jaunty little fantasy affair, much like the book I’m choosing to pair it with.

*By which I mean it all gets very complicated very quickly. Essentially Saevus is playing an elaborate shell game that will determine the fate of nations. He may also be causing bucketloads of chaos just to satisfy his own deliciously twisted sense of humour.

**For the reader, not for Saevus. He has a terrible old time of it all.

One Comment

  • Madscientistnz October 20, 2023 at 8:26 am

    You don’t have to wait long for books 2 & 3 of the trilogy! They’ll be out in Nov and Dec 🙂
    K J Parker also writes as Tom Holt, well known for humorous fantasy. That overt humour is more sly in the K J Parker books, and I enjoy them both.

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