Dust jacket illustration by Vincent Chong.
Over the past two decades, K. J. Parker has established himself as one of the most original voices in contemporary fantasy. Through works ranging in scale from multi-volume epics (The Engineer Trilogy) to standalone novels (The Company) to a vivid assortment of stories and novellas, he has earned his reputation as an imaginative, consistently absorbing storyteller. His latest novella, My Beautiful Life, can only enhance that reputation.
As the ironic title indicates, Parker’s latest tells the story of an individual life that takes extraordinary turns. As the story begins, the nameless, dying narrator takes us back to his childhood home in a remote corner of the ubiquitous Empire. The second of three sons, he lives there with his mother in a state of unrelieved poverty. Life eventually becomes so dire that the mother—who can only find work as a prostitute—is forced to sell one of her children. The oldest son, Nico, volunteers to be sold in order to protect his family, and that decision sets in motion everything that follows. Nico’s journey takes him, in time, to the heart of the Empire and the very center of power. Over time, he acquires considerable power of his own and uses it to bring his younger brothers into the circle of his influence, changing their lives forever. Under Nico’s guidance, the middle brother—our nameless narrator—achieves a destiny that will alter not only his own life, but the life of the Empire itself.
Written with wit, economy, and considerable style, My Beautiful Life is at once a profoundly gripping narrative and a rueful meditation on the workings of fate. Equally suitable both for long-time fans and for newcomers to Parker’s fictional universe, it is an essential—and hugely enjoyable—addition to a distinguished body of work.
Limited: 1000 signed numbered hardcover copies
From Publishers Weekly:
“Dark humor, razor-sharp prose, and an air of foreboding pervade this excellent fantasy novella from Parker (Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City)… The narrator’s wry exploration of fate and free will is witty, sardonic, and intelligent. Parker’s fans will be delighted by the alternating pathos and pitch-black comedy.”
“Unlike the long tradition of disruptive but fundamentally decent rogues, K.J. Parker’s invidious protagonists, who are often his narrators, can almost seem ingratiating in their forthrightness and cynicism—until we catch on to what sort of ruthlessness they are really capable of. It’s not giving anything away to point out that Parker’s new novella My Beautiful Life begins with the admission, ‘I’ve done some truly appalling things in my life’ and ends with the words ‘It’s been a beautiful life, one way and another.’ The convoluted moral algebra that permits the unnamed narrator to blithely hold both thoughts in mind at once is also a key to what guides him from utter poverty and homelessness to immense political power and influence, leaving a trail of betrayals, murders, and mutilations along the way.”
My Beautiful Life
I’ve done some truly appalling things in my life. I’m bitterly ashamed of them now. Saying I did them all for the best—And saying, those things weren’t my idea, other people made me do them, is just as bad; admitting that I’m a spineless coward as well as morally bankrupt. I’m a mess, and no good nohow.
I can say all that and get away with it; you can’t. Don’t even think about it. If you were to repeat what I’ve just told you word for word, let alone paraphrase it or add a few rhetorical flourishes of your own, they’d have you up for high treason and stretch your neck. Speaking ill of me is slandering the Crown, therefore by implication the Empire, therefore by implication the eight million people who live in it. Quite probably, Bemba—that’s the poor devil I’m dictating this to—is guilty of a capital crime just because he’s writing down what I told him to—though of course, if he’d refused, that would’ve been treason too.
It’s treason because the Law assumes that anything nasty or bad about the Emperor can’t possibly be true; which says an awful lot about the Law and laws in general, if you ask me. I’d write it all out myself and avoid the risk of yet another innocent man going to the gallows for my sake, only I never learned to write, and it’s far too late now.
Once upon a time—
Bemba’s shaking his head at me; you can’t start a history, even an unofficial one, with once upon a time. Screw him—sorry, Bemba, I didn’t mean that. But once upon a time it’s going to have to be, because that’s the only way I know to start a story, never having had any education to speak of. You can fiddle with it later if you like.
Once upon a time, there were three brothers.
Where was I?
I’ve really had enough of the pain. It’s always there. You think you’ve got used to it, up to a point, and then it suddenly flares up and reduces you to a snivelling heap. For crying out loud, says the little voice inside me, pull yourself together, try and preserve the little dignity you’ve got left, there are people watching you. And besides, adds the little voice, perfectly correctly, you brought all this on yourself, it’s all your own fault, like everything else. And whatever you do, don’t you dare ask for sympathy.
Fine. But it’s a real pest, because it snaps my train of thought like a carrot and I can’t concentrate worth a damn, and when I get one of the bad attacks it wipes my mind clean, so I can barely remember who I am. No bad thing, in a way.
All right, let’s start again. This is the story of my life, which is shortly going to end, and about time too. I guess you could call it a confession. There’s a difference of opinion among the leading theologians on this point. Some of them say you can confess your sins silently, without actually moving your lips, while others maintain that in order to be valid, a confession must be made out loud, to someone, or it doesn’t count. A third school maintains that that someone has to be a priest, but I have my doubts about that, mostly because priests get paid for hearing confessions. My brother Nico, when he was High Precentor, charged four hundred thousand solidi just for bless me, father, for I have sinned, and if you wanted to give him chapter and verse it was extra, fifty thousand solidi per hundred words. I remember saying to him, Nico, you can’t charge that much, nobody’s going to pay that when a friar’ll give you absolution for a solidus fifty. He laughed at me. He was right, too. He got so much business that towards the end, he was actually turning people away.
My brother Nico was a bad man, perhaps the most evil human being I’ve ever met. He loved me more than anyone or anything in the world. I miss him.
- Vincent Chong
- K. J. Parker
- United States
- Subterranean Press
- Out of Print