His reunion with his family having not gone entirely well, the man using the name Poldarn flees back to the Empire he fled in the first book. People familiar with the series thus far might ask if that is an entirely sensible idea on Poldarn’s part; sadly, Poldarn’s talents do not lie in the field of ratiocination or even “learning from experience”.
Desiring to leave behind his life as an agent of chaos and doom – I misspoke, as an incarnation of the god of chaos and doom – Poldarn settles down in what he hopes will be a quiet life working for a bell works. Bells seem harmless enough, right? But there is no knife that does not turn in Poldarn’s hand; he is such that a job in a fluffy teddy bear factory would lead to the death of half the country.
Poldarn makes two big mistakes, one of which is forgivable and one of which is not. The unforgivable mistake is that he had at least a dim awareness that plots of all kinds were swirling around him the last time he was in the Empire; there’s no reason to think that will stop just because he left for a while1 and of course it doesn’t. Poldarn has the further handicap that his amnesia means he’s playing a version of Liar’s Poker where he is the only one who cannot see the cards.
What Poldarn cannot predict because it is a very closely held secret is that there is a way to construct a metal tube-shaped weapon able to throw projectiles with great force at targets a long way away2. If someone wanted to start rolling out cannons in a land that never had them before, re-purposing a bell works like the one Poldarn works in might be ideal.
If his entanglement in political and military affairs was not enough, Poldarn’s habit of leaving a trail of death behind him had angered one old lady too many. Even as Poldarn learns lesson after lesson about the calamitous consequences of his actions, the worst consequence of all it on its way, one that an act of love on Poldarn’s part will make more universal than it might have been.
In many ways, Poldarn what you might get if Bertie Wooster had been an avatar of Kali; he’s smart enough to make dumb mistakes on a scale regular dullards could never match, and charming enough that one almost misses the piles of bodies in his wake. There are times where the people around him chide Poldarn for being so slow to see how he is being used but oddly none of them ever seem to realize using Poldarn for their own purposes is tantamount to committing suicide3.
I think another author could crank out more trilogies about poor Poldarn and the even more unfortunate people around him but I am happy that Parker chose not to do that. A trilogy is the perfect amount of time to have spent with these characters.
I don’t know how I’d react to this series if I had first encountered in the 2010s and not the 2000s, after the endless stream of grimdark I’ve been sent rather than before. I think I’d still have liked it, because parts of it are amusing in a limbs and organs scattered around the room manner; as I keep saying, I don’t know that that this reflects well on me but I found the trilogy stood up well.
- In his defense, every possible decision he can make, even killing himself, leads to disaster. But thinking he will be left alone is particularly dumb.
- I think maybe the Empire pulled a Japan and suppressed the whole art of gunpowder weapons for being too disruptive. But the Empire is in crisis and extreme problems call for extreme, destabilizing measures. Not that the cannons are the worse crisis facing the Empire.
- I was going to compare Poldarn to the emo albino of dooooom Elric but on second thought I think Poldarn has more in common with Stormbringer.