Pattern: Book Two of the Scavenger Trilogy

K.J. Parker
Scavenger Trilogy, book 2

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Although still an amnesiac, the man known as Poldarn has reunite with his people after a generation of separation and although he cannot remember why it was he had to flee all those years ago, no doubt such matters are of the distant past and could not possibly come back to haunt him now.

Amnesia isn’t the only thing dividing Poldarn from his devoted family; everyone else on the two islands of the raiders are telepathic, and in a society where households run smoothly thanks to what is almost a group mind, Poldarn is the odd man out, a stranger in a practical-minded community beyond such petty superstitions as religion or volcanoes.

So, bad news about volcanoes; turns out they are real….

The islands, which might be inspired by Iceland or possibly New Zealand, are definitely volcanic in nature and just because the one in Poldarn’s family’s backyard has been dormant for longer than living memory does not mean the old tales of it being the fire god’s forge were the confabulations of ignorant peasants.

Once the mountain starts spewing ash and lava and the melt-water washes a neighboring homestead off the landscape, Poldarn is nominated as the guy to work out what to do mainly on the basis of the fact he has a word for a mountain that spews ash and fire, which makes him more of an expert on the subject than anyone around him. As it turns out, Poldarn has a talent for solid short term decisions; his snap choices keep people alive, at least for the moment.

Unfortunately, Poldarn’s true talent lies in catalyzing disaster and his brilliant short-term solution for the river of lava making its way towards his family’s holding turns out to be the first snowflake in an avalanche of discord, disquieting revelations and brutal murder.

Looking at the review I wrote for the SFBC Lo These Many Years Ago, I see I called this a black comedy and I will stick with that. You wouldn’t have to change many words for this to become an out and out tragedy but I feel certain the author intends all this to be amusing in a horrible sort of way.

Parker is one of the authors I like to turn to an example during heated discussions of why SF is better than fantasy, specifically the bit where people claim SF is more fact based than fantasy1. There are fantastic elements in the books but details based in the real world – black smithing, how to deal with a lava flow – will have been researched; except for the activities that involve felonies or which require an active volcano on hand, I expect the author tried their hand at it as well.

Generally Parker isn’t the go-to author for female characters but the ones in this series are not as slight as the ones in the Engineer trilogy.

There’s something repellently engaging about Parker’s fiction and its cheerful exploration of terrible things done by people who mean well. I am pretty sure it reflects badly on me that I find their work addictive and yet I have to confess I do. I expect others will as well, at least if you have a tolerance for grimdark comedy.


  1. I laughed for about half an hour between “[” and “]”.

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