Saevus Corax spends all his time concerned with war. Well, at least the aftermath of war. He cleans up the battlefields after skirmishes. He collects weapons and uniforms to sell back to the army and takes care of the bodies that are left behind. For him, war is good but that doesn’t make him a bad guy. So when someone sets him up for a huge navel heist he scrambles to figure out who could have set him up, and why. But there’s a bigger conspiracy going on in Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead and K.J. Parker serves up one twist after another in this mystery fantasy.
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review contains some spoilers!]
An extremely windy path in Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead
In the beginning, Saevus Corax seems like it’s going to be about a guy who profits off of cleaning up after wars. Saevus goes into great detail about every aspect of his business, stripping bodies, patching armor and uniforms, collecting arrows, repairing swords and shields, stacking and disposing of bodies, and healing the injured. Costs and profits are constantly being considered in his narrative. Even rivalries with other clean-up crews are divulged. I wasn’t totally sure where the story was going but I was following along.
Then suddenly it pivots to a narrative involving murder and theft on the high seas. Corax is being set up and the big question for the reader is why? He doesn’t seem totally surprised that someone would set him up, so there’s obviously a lot he hasn’t shared up to this point.
Then out of nowhere, it’s a kidnapping caper! Corax is kidnapped and hauled off by a woman who doesn’t like him at all! Corax is more interested in dying than reaching the destination making it seem like whoever wants him must have something really bad planned. But that isn’t the last turn! I’ll stop revealing plot points now but let’s just say that there are a lot more twists and even if you think you know where the story is going, you don’t.
An unreliable and annoying narrator
What allows Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead to have so many twists and turns is its very unreliable narrator. Saevus only tells us what we need to know at the moment, and even that is usually only a half-truth or a very embellished truth. Almost every surprise comes because he was hiding things from us the readers, other characters, or both. It was honestly a little annoying because it felt like one of those stories where your kid is lying to you and every time you point out an inconsistency, they just invent a new lie to cover the old lie. I was worn out by the time we got to the end of the book from trying to make everything fit together.
And Saevus isn’t the only character who does this, which makes following the story really difficult. It also made it impossible to like or relate to any of the characters because you never get a clear idea of who they actually are. Their personalities and loyalties are constantly shifting and no one really has a definitive “this is who they are” structure.
Beyond the wishy-washy details that Saevus shares, his voice itself is rather irritating. He comes across as someone who thinks they’re super funny and interesting but is really just annoying. I just kept finding myself thinking “Oh shut up and get on with the story” when he would start going on about something. Maybe some people would find him funny or entertaining, but I did not. I just found him exhausting.
That all being said, the story itself was interesting. All the twists were interesting and understandable in a hindsight kind of way. And it was interesting that someone who profits from war would want to avoid one so badly. It was a little hopeful in that way and redeemed Saevus a bit. After all, most people who make money from battles would hope for nothing more than more fighting, but Saevus actually seems to care about people and doesn’t want more wars, he just wants to quietly clean up the mess they leave behind.
Not quite enough to save Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead
While Saevus does have some redeeming qualities and his story is interesting, it’s not enough to save Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead. I spent most of my time while reading this book waiting for the end. And not because I had a burning need to know what happened but because I wanted to shelve it and forget it.
I enjoy stories that take unexpected turns but not when they come from a narrator who changes the facts to suit the current plot twist. This can be used effectively maybe once in a story, normally near the end. But an overuse of it just kills my interest in the story. And it kept me from enjoying Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead in any meaningful way. I would just suggest skipping this one, sorry Parker.
My Rating: 5/10
Saevus Corax Deals with the Dead by K. J. Parker is available now from Orbit Books. Let us know on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord if you plan on reading this novel!