I had mixed feelings about K. J. Parker's Devices and Desires when I read it last year, so I was in no real hurry to give The Company a shot. Yet decidedly underwhelmed by Jack Vance's Tales of the Dying Earth, I desperately needed something different to get my mind off Cugel. And every time I perused my book piles for a stand-alone to read, Parker's latest inevitably returned to haunt me for some reason.
I'm certainly glad I elected to give it a chance, for The Company turned out to be an unanticipated pleasure. Indeed, the novel is a sure candidate for my "Unexpected Surprise of the Year" Award. The funny thing is that if you break down this book and put its various components under the microscope, each characteristic is nothing spectacular. No, it's in the execution that Parker truly shines and comes up with something unique and special.
The overall premise is nothing to write home about. Hoping for a better life following a bloody war, five veterans leave everything behind to colonize an island. But can their enduring friendship keep them together? As you can see, it's not the sort of story arc which immediately captures the imagination. And yet, The Company is like a drug. The more you read, the more you have to read in order to discover what happens next.
In terms of style, the novel is a compelling cross between L. E. Modesitt, jr. and Neil Gaiman. As was the case with The Engineer Trilogy, technical details and realism are integral parts of the tale. Don't expect any fireworks, or action-packed sequences. The Company is an intelligent yet low profile sort of book. Adroit storytelling and witty humor keep the narrative flowing, and before you know it you'll have reached the end. The author's eye for details adds a nice touch to the overall quality of the work.
The most impressive aspect of The Company is the characterization. I found that the characters in Devices and Desires left more than a little to be desired in that department, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the men and women populating this one possessed much more depth. Kunessin, Aidi, Kudei, Muri, and Fly are an interesting and endearing bunch, the more so because they each have a back story that fleshes them out even more. A number of secondary characters manage to shine as well, chief among those Dorun, but it's the veterans' story from start to finish.
The pace is good throughout the book. No spectacular plot twists keep you on the edge of your seat, though, à la George R. R. Martin, there are a number of unexpected surprises. I have a feeling that The Company is the kind of novel that could well fly under the radar of many readers. Which would be a pity, as it's an original and well-crafted tale that should appeal to many disparate fantasy aficionados.
If you are looking for something smart, something different, K. J. Parker's The Company could be right up your alley.
The final verdict: 7.75/10