Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Company - K.J. Parker

I read this book by accident.  I thought I was picking up the novel about the CIA, also titled The Company; but I wasn't paying attention to the author name and I grabbed this one instead.  Once I realized my mistake, I was already far enough into the book that I was intrigued by where it was heading.  

The story is about 5 men who served together as "linebreakers" in war and are now setting off to start their own colony.  It is set in a fictional world that somehow simultaneously gives the feel of the modern era, while the details include farms and Greek-era warfare.  The narrative bounces back and forth from the present time to stories of their wartime heroics.  

The men, Company A in wartime, stock up on supplies, marry local girls, hire some indentured servants to do the grunt work, and head off to an island to start a new life.  They were national heroes after the war, but each has struggled to assimilate back into normal life.  All they know is how to fight, even though all they want is a quiet existence. There are, of course, a series of serious mishaps once they reach their destination.  The barn burns down, the servants strike gold and form a sort of union, the government arrives to reclaim the land.  Over and over again, Company A schemes and lies to get what they want.  They have no regard for others, really not even their wives.  In the end, one of the wives poisons the rest of the bunch and Company A, though recovering from the poisoning, is trapped in a burning building while they fight it out over long-hidden secrets of the war.  None of them make it out.

For me, the ending was out of step with the rest of the book.  I understand that Company A probably couldn't make to the last page alive. In fact, this plot point was something I appreciated.  It seemed only fitting that these men would die fighting each other.  They were never able to properly rejoin society regardless of how much they wanted to.  At the same time, there was no war for them to go back to.  There was no happy ending to be had.  Yet, the poisoning and return of the government to kill Company A seemed far-fetched.  I could buy the barn explosion and the servant rebellion, but these finals twists seemed a stretch.  

Overall, this book never really quite captured me.  There were too many characters to become attached on the level that would cause me to care about their fate.  Some characters even had more than one name which made it difficult to keep track of who was who.  The flashes of wartime scenes were confusing since the reader is given no context for who or why the soldiers are fighting.  I understand that some of the lack of explanation led to better twists later on; Parker was clearly trying to let you figure things out on your own.  But when you are in an unfamiliar world and not quite sure of the rules the author has created there, I prefer to have a little more help than Parker was offering.  The book was not bad, but I doubt I'll pick up another work by Parker any time soon.

Date Completed: July 23, 2012
Pages: 432

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