In the pitch dark, witty fantasy novella Prosper’s Demon, K. J. Parker deftly creates a world with vivid, unbending rules, seething with demons, broken faith, and worse men.
In a botched demonic extraction, they say the demon feels it ten times worse than the man. But they don’t die, and we do. Equilibrium.
The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out—he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.
Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.
Title: Prosper’s Demon | Author: K. J. Parker | Publisher: Tor.com | Pub. Date: 28/01/2020 | Pages: 110 | ASIN: B07W3DTYSS | Genre: Horror | Language: English | Source: Purchased | Starred Review
Prosper’s Demon Review
Prosper’s Demon was my introduction to K. J. Parker, a pseudonym for the author Tom Holt. Mr. Holt is a prolific writer and I look forward to reading more of his work while wondering how I could possibly have missed out thus far.
The story is told from the first-person point of view of an Exorcist who, while titled as a cleric, has no apparent belief in religion. He can, however, see, torture, and remove “Them” from human hosts. They are only occasionally referred to as demons, and otherwise are They or Them. Our MC tells us from the start that he is not a nice person and you will not like him, then does his best to live up to those expectations. But the story hinges on his apparent moral struggle to choose between the lesser of two evils, which does a lot to humanize him. Well, a little bit at least.
I tagged this story as Horror because there are Demons and people get dismembered and possessed. Amazon lists it as Dark Fantasy or Dark Fantasy Horror and I can understand that as well. This is not a work about people being terrified by demons, just dealing with them. The world-building is interesting and believable in part because so much of it is modeled on the Middle Ages in Europe, just with different names and the addition of the occasional Demonic possession. Though come to think of it the Europeans probably thought they had those as well. The other reason it’s believable is that the author stole brazenly from the “real” world. Principles of Mathematics makes an appearance, and Leonardo’s Horse plays a central role in the tale. Though in this case, it is Prosper’s horse. I found these choices interesting and not jarring but still unusual.
Parker’s prose is a joy to read. It’s clean and well-polished, not flowery and showy. The man has been slinging words for a long time and gotten rather good at it. He also does a fine job dropping in dry humor from the MC’s perspective.
It should be clear by now that I really enjoyed the work and highly recommend it. The story moves briskly, the characters seem believable, the basic plot is something new (to me), and the conclusion is spectacular. He has a second novella in preparation and I look forward to reading that once published.
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