Double Novella Review – The Last Witness (2015), and The Devil You Know (2016) by KJ Parker

The Last Witness – 2015

25901575

Paperback, 144 pages
Published October 6th 2015 by Tor.com

This is a fantastic and interesting little tale, which packs a LOT into it’s relatively short format, while somehow not feeling rushed or crowded. The prose in this one is smooth, more in a full-novel format than many novellas, which makes it a fairly easy read, and the pages just fly by.

The premise is very interesting – the last witness has the power to enter someone’s mind, and remove memories; unwanted in most cases, but this power is vast, and he can do it without the people desiring the memories be taken. This is, of course, a very useful, powerful, and lucrative talent to have. However, as you would imagine, there are quite a few risks associated with this, and possessing knowledge of many things is not always a safe place to be. In this line of work, our narrator comes across unsavory characters looking to cover illegal activities, which they are often paranoid about covering.

Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, as the last witness ‘absorbs’ that persons memories into his own, it begins difficult for him to differentiate which memories are his own, versus those of other people, and this distinction becomes more and more difficult as time goes on. As you can imagine, this leads to an unreliable narrator, one struggling with memories and visions, and having minor identity crisis.

I found The Last Witness to be a great piece – easily the best of Tom Holt KJ Parker’s works that I’ve read. The difficult narration of the story is handled brilliantly, the prose is entertaining, yet cuts to the point with a terrific level of skill. It stays entertaining throughout, and is absolutely a rapid page turner throughout it’s (relatively limited) duration. And, speaking on the duration – it was just right  for a novella, in my opinion. It did not drag out, yet did not skimp on details or writing, and stuck around long enough to do what it needed to, and not overstaying it’s welcome.

A lot of fun, and very enjoyable.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Tom Holt, photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2010

The Devil You Know – 2016

27158850

Paperback, 128 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Tor.com

The Devil You Know presents an interesting conundrum – in a world where you can sell your eternal soul to the devil, in return for a few years of service from a pseudo-god, how can you be sure it’s worth it? How can you be sure who is getting the better half of the deal?

When the person making the deal is Saloninus, known to be manipulative, genius, subtle and crafty, as well as the greatest philosopher of all time, that question gets even more muddled. Saloninus enters into his contract with the demons almost too happily, none too concerned about damning his eternal soul in return for, relatively speaking, a minor increase in life’s length, and the power and assistance of a demon who is all powerful, but also essentially a slave by contract. How could that be worth it?

Of course, the tricky philosopher lives up to his reputation, twisting words to his benefit, and taking advantage of his abilities to use forbidden and discouraged practices, such as alchemy, to meet his end goal, which turns out to be even more sinister than the demons and Devil are ready to address. What begins as a simple and somewhat-routine contract quickly turns into one with huge-scale repercussions, and the demons are scrambling to decide how to best address this in order to protect not just themselves and their reputation amongst the mortals, but also potentially the world itself.

This novella isn’t as well written as The Last Witness in my opinion, especially the odd decision to switch POV at a few points in the story, which were a jarring and confusing switch, as there was little notification at the time, and you are suddenly left trying to figure out what exactly was happening. The characters, however, were bright and vivid, Salolinus every bit the genius and unsavory character he’s made out to be, and manages to maintain control at almost all times, despite his precarious circumstances.

So, while not quite as good as The Last Witness, this is yet another quality piece from Parker, as well as Tor.com, who has impressed the hell out of me with their novellas. Some big names, and some really great work by those names, in gorgeous packaging and with fantastic cover arts. The ones that made it to audio are an even bigger bonus (I got through this one in part of a day), and the quality of the production is high as well. I look forward to more, and I feel like I should continue reading Parker’s works, even after the disappointment from the Two of Swords series, which just did not quite hit the mark for me.

Rating: 3.75 / 5

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2 thoughts on “Double Novella Review – The Last Witness (2015), and The Devil You Know (2016) by KJ Parker

  1. I absolutely loved The Last Witness. Might be about my favorite novella. The narration is really impressive because it could have gone wrong in so many ways. Definitely agree Devil You Know is not as strong (but still good)

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