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Literature / The Folding Knife

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A 2010 novel by K. J. Parker telling the story of Bassianus Severus (also known as Basso), First Citizen of the Vesani Republic, variously called Basso the Wise, Basso the Great, and Basso The Magnificent. Unfortunately, all of this was undone by one tragic mistake. The novel starts by showing the results of said mistake, then chronicles Basso's life and achievements, leading up to that fateful moment...


Early in the novel, Basso catches his wife in flagrant with his beloved sister's husband, and kills the husband in self-defense and then kills his wife (not so much in self-defense). This creates a rift between Basso and his sister and leads her to devote her life to ruining his.

Contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Basso's parents were pretty distant towards him, and he is the same or worse towards his own sons, who he hates because they remind him of his first wife's adultery and he can never shake the feeling they aren't really his own sons. Notably, Basso's POV generally refers to them as "The Twins" and gives very little detail about them.
  • Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards: The Vesani Republic relies on foreign mercenaries to fight its wars, and they are lead by generals who are themselves foreigners, and who are precluded from citizenship. This is done so as to avoid those generals becoming politically involved and establishing a military dictatorship. Taking this further, it is suggested that to a significant degree, bureaucracy is run by eunuch slaves who were abducted from foreign provinces. In both cases, it is because the Vesani see themselves as "too good" for such things, something Basso wants to change.
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  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Averted. The Vesani Republic relies on eunuch slaves trained in clerical work to run its banks, and the two prominent examples in the novel are both benevolent.
  • Expy: Basso is in part one to the Emperor Claudius- he's partially deaf and has a disability (and is considered ugly), and is cuckolded and plotted against by his wives. Likewise, Basso and Claudius are both scholarly individuals with a Badass Bookworm streak who are opposed by the Senate and draw power from the people and an ultra-loyal Cadre of Foreign Bodyguards. Basso also has a few similarities with the Athenian leader Pericles, in terms of coming from a prominent family but being derided by other aristocrats as something of a demagogue, and for having a relationship with a foreign woman that leads them to pass a law broadening the base of citizens.
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  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Vesani Republic mixes several historical influences. In terms of overall "feel", it is akin to an Italy City State split off from the Byzantine Empire. However, the plotline of Basso's attempts to turn the Vesansi Republic into an Empire provides some parallels with the Roman Republic (with Basso being a combination of Julius Casesar and Claudius). Additionally, the Vesani Republic's policies excluding "foreigners" from citizenship as well as a practice of providing welfare in the form of paying citizens to serve as jurors both recall the Athenian Republic (and suggest that Basso may also have some parallels with Pericles).
  • Hegemonic Empire: Basso's goal is to turn the Vesani Republic (which he imagines being later known as the Vesani Commonwealth and after that, the Vesani Empire) into one of these.
  • Just the First Citizen: Basso's title is First Citizen, fitting with the feel of the setting which combines Ancient Rome with Italian City State (specifically Venice, and the role of the Doge). While the position possess great power, it actually is subject to term limits, and further limited by politicians from the Opposition. However, Basso's plans revolve around neutering the Opposition and as part of his ambitions for his beloved nephew to succeed him, imagines the position as being equivalent in power to that of Emperor.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted by the presence of Basso's nephew, generally called Bassano, who is also named Bassanius. One chapter, describing Bassano's birth, does call him Basso and Bassanius, but refers to Basso (the protagonist) as "his Uncle" and "The First Citizen".
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: This is one reason why Basso is so furious when his sons rape a barmaid- unlike theft and murder (which he has himself committed), he feels that there is never any good reason for committing rape.
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: Because Basso has one and the reader can see his thoughts, he comes across as sympathetic. Viewed from the outside, he'd probably come across as a combination of Sleazy Politician and Evil Overlord.
  • Vestigial Empire: The Vesani Republic split off from a larger empire at some point in the past, and said empire has interest in taking it back. This is a result of the similarities of the setting to the Byzantine Empire, wherein the Empire stands in for the Byzantine Empire, and the Vesani Republic for an Italian city state.

Example of: