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Literature / The Scavenger Trilogy

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The Scavenger Trilogy by K. J. Parker is a Low Fantasy set in an empire threatened from outside by raiders and torn from within by conspiracy. We meet Poldarn, the protagonist, as he wakes alone on a body-strewn battlefield with no idea who he is. He is an innocent blank. Encounters with people who knew him lead to disaster: Poldarn aches to recover his past, but this past is ticking.

The supernatural is present but low key. Even the god that may be stalking the characters is only ambiguously real. The writing is excellent and but dense in places. Rather than Viewers Are Morons, Viewers Are Expected To Be Taking Notes. Part of the complexity comes from the extensive uses of dream sequences. In his dreams Poldarn sees the past and the future, from his own eyes and those of other characters. When this verges on Anachronic Order it is challenging first time through.

Technology, the material culture of this world gets an extended look-in. Parker is interested in work as well as fighting, and makes things in Real Life and this comes through.

A very meaty series with much food for thought, but be warned: the trilogy is bloody and dark. The prose is assured, the tone is calm and the humour bitingly funny. The subject matter, however, is bleak and the treatment of it cruel. A review made the comparison to watching a "massive road accident happening in slow motion". The bitter satire is however welded to an engaging story; the quest for Poldarn's mysterious past and the calamitous adventures he has along the way.


  • Anachronic Order: Not quite, but we can see it without squinting. A character dreams of remembering a dream containing visions of the then-future, his now-past...
  • Batman Gambit: Ciartan and the crows, several deep long-range conspiracies as plotted by Deymeson, Tazenticus, Ciartan, Cordomine, Anathamy House and possibly the other Poldarn.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poldarn, endlessly. Monkey with a knife, rabies. Sharp teeth.
  • Combat Aestheticist: The sword monks devote their lives to combat asthetics. They raise fighting to a form of sculpture — an artwork carved in time, position and flesh.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Poldarn, as a life's work. The islanders are Combat Pragmatists, drawing on the hard bitten practicality they have soaked into their bones. Their confrontation with the sword monks is played as clash of antithetical philosophies.
  • Cosmic Plaything: Poldarn: events are possibly being manipulated by the god of the same name to teach him a lesson. Out of jealous love or for revenge ... it's not clear.
  • Crapsack World: And how! So little secure government, and you don't want to know what is driving what order there is.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Yeesh. Poldarn. You can't blame him for running from it.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: The series shows war as the graceless waste it is, but the extended passages on on the poetry of violence give an ambiguous counterpoint.
  • Doom Magnet: That's probably the literal translation of "Poldarn".
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: One of the roots of evil explored is unbridled emotion. Stoicism is more respected. By the end however, the sinister extreme of lacking all drives befalls several stoic characters.
  • Flash Back: In places there's more flashback than straight narrative.
  • Gambit Pileup: Half the fun is the giddy sense of grand plans coliding in the dark.
  • God Is Evil: if you have to pray, pray the god called Poldarn isn't real. You don't want his special salvation.
  • How We Got Here: The whole series is an extended journey to appreciate how we got to the start of the story.
  • Humble Goal: Poldarn wants to stay dry and not have people try to kill him. He doesn't generally achieve even this goal.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Several characters cause great harm under the influence. Ciartan's obsession with Xipho leads him to kill her unborn child. His love of Xipho and his schoolmates leads to his pivotal betrayal of Tazenticus. Lysalis seems hollowed out by it, and is capable of doing anything in its name, as would her father.
  • Low Fantasy: Very low-key mind-reading, glimpses of the future, and possibly a god.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: For a series that suceeds with its realism so often, the ability of characters to maintain sophisticated conversations in extremity is a bit jarring.
  • Ninja School: Deymeson, roughly speaking.
  • Shown Their Work: Excellent detail of material culture in use and manufacture, which might get a bit lengthy for those readers not into that sort of thing. Parker makes things in Real Life and the first-hand experience shines through, particularly in the smithy.
  • The Unfettered: Poldarn is simutaneously a celebration and a warning about The Unfetted character archetype. He is at his most compelling when he is acting with a pure vision of getting from A to B regardless. But he is undone by it, over and over.
  • The Vamp: Herda.
  • War Is Hell