Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Prosper's Demon, by K.J. Parker

★★★★☆ Devilishly Clever

(Fantasy Adventure) The narrator can cast out demons, but it can damage the host, and when he finds a demon possessing the greatest mind of his age, he hesitates. Particularly when it’s creating a great work of art. (20,702 words; Time: 1h:09m)

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"Prosper's Demon," by , published on by .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2020.076 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: I liked the setting: a world with a fixed number of demons who keep getting cast out by a team of specialized priests. It’s not a bad metaphor for the way we play whack-a-mole with evil in the real world, except that we don’t have the luxury of knowing that evil is finite.

The cynical narrator is a hoot. As he admits, he’s not a nice guy, and he’s far too casual about the collateral damage he does, but he feels very real. In his dealings with Prosper’s demon, it’s clear from the start that he’s got some plan (even the demon says, “I may be immortal, but I wasn’t born yesterday”), but a lot of the fun is the anticipation of finding out what that plan is.

It’s quite a shock when the narrator deliberately has a demon possess a 5-year-old girl so he can get a reliable worker inside the mold for the horse. This compromises his principles way beyond anything I thought he’d do. That sets the stage for the horrifying conclusion, which was in perfect character and yet still shocking.

A whole other dimension of the story is the technical challenge of creating the great bronze horse. The details of how it all works were great fun (to me, at least), which makes it all the more awful when the horse ends up destroyed.

It’s a nice touch that a side-effect was the restoration of the republic. It had been casually mentioned early in the story that the Duke had overthrown the republic, so it was nice to see that that detail was meaningful.

Con: The ending seems to happen too fast. From the point the narrator mentions the child he “bought,” the story comes to a rapid conclusion via simple narration.

The narrator is “ungrounded.” That is, we never learn his name, his age, or anything about his appearance other than the fact that he’s male.

One quibble: if demons can possess the priest and make him kill people, why don’t they just make him kill himself and be done with him?

Other Reviews: Search Web, GoodReads.com
K.J. Parker Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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