Title: A Practical Guide to Conquering the World (The Siege #3)
Author: K.J. Parker
Publication date: January 11, 2022
One Sentence Summary: An interpreter in Echmen, Felix suddenly becomes the only Robur left in the world and is taken in by the Hus, but he has a plan that involves more than just the Hus.
A Practical Guide to Conquering the World is the last book in The Siege trilogy, but can be read as a standalone. It follows the intentional and unintentional consequences of who appears to be the last Robur left in the world’s actions and decisions. Sometimes it felt cleverly choreographed and planned and other times it felt like a snowball effect. Either way, I liked how much the narrator’s bookish knowledge came in handy and how casual he seemed about a lot of things, but I also felt it was impossible to trust him and his motivations. Overall, this was an amusing read with an interesting and kind of 2-dimensional world, but with a narrator I can’t say I actually liked.
Years ago, after a horrible and bloody experience that should have killed him, Felix is sent to the Echmen empire as a translator. Some time after that, he saves the life of a Hus woman, who eventually saves him in return when his people are essentially declared extinct and he’s marked for death. Completely unnecessary and unwanted by the rest of her diplomatic group, Felix finds himself spending the next few years doing little more than reading in the expansive library.
But it comes in handy when the Echmen conquer the Hus, making the woman who saved him queen of the Hus and her people enslaved. In order to free her people and get the rest of the Dejauzi groups (of which the Hus are only one) to conquer the Echmen, Felix must use all the knowledge and resources at his fingertips, but that’s only the start of his story to conquering the world.
A Practical Guide to Conquering the World is the third in The Siege trilogy, but can be read as a standalone. Having only read the second book previously, I’d say that’s fairly true. This third book follows the events of the second, but it’s narrated by a completely different character who didn’t even personally know the narrator of the second book. Considering I don’t accurately remember all the details of the second book, I didn’t feel I really needed them to figure out what was going on in this one.
I was torn between bemusement and exasperation while reading this book. It’s very tongue-in-cheek to me, but tended to rub me the wrong way probably because of how casual Felix treated everything. He had a lot of interesting ideas and a lot of luck, and a quick way with words and the interpretation of those words. It made it a little difficult to figure out if he was being sincere about anything. For much of the book, I just got the feeling he was shrugging everything off while everyone around him kept elevating his importance. I did like how he seemed modest and didn’t demand to be crowned king or anything, but I also couldn’t figure out if he was being sincere and honest or just using the people who suddenly believe in him to get whatever it was he wanted.
Felix was far from my favorite character, which was kind of a shame since he’s the narrator. There were times when he felt like a strategist, times when he felt like a coward, times when he appeared brave, and times when he just didn’t seem to actually care. The reader is only getting his perspective in his own words, so it felt kind of impossible to tell just how truthful he was being. It both drove me nuts and kept me amused. There were times when he appeared to be just doing things so casually, but it all also felt extremely calculated and there where times when he really did seem weary of everything and wanted to escape.
But what I did like about Felix and A Practical Guide to Conquering the World was how much it leaned on history and book knowledge. As a reader, I can certainly identify with Felix’s thirst of knowledge, and I felt this book really encapsulated how important reading is. So much of what he did came from what he learned of history and the world in books. I loved how much of what he did leaned on his book knowledge, and it really seemed to prove to me just how important libraries are.
However, a lot of the good and fortuitous things that happened to Felix and his “people” was down to world building. There are numerous countries and groups of people, all of whom are quite different from each other and have very different beliefs and ways of doing things. What they all had in common, though, was how they never diverted from them. They were steadfast in how they had always done things, so, by knowing what they were going to do because of history, Felix was able to throw wrenches at them to ensure his victory. It became a little annoying after a while that every group just behaved the way Felix expected. But it did nicely highlight the groups Felix worked with and their ability to adapt, trust, and try things a different way despite misgivings. Since the second book was restricted to the City, it was nice to see so many different groups and to explore more of the world. It all felt very 2D because each group never really varied what they had always done, but it was fun to learn the different ways they did things.
As much as Felix and his seemingly sheer luck and true disinterest in correcting people exhausted me, I really liked the Hus queen. Since her people do not freely give their names, she’s mostly referred to as she and her. She’s the one who worked most closely with Felix, who knew more of what he was about and what he was doing than anyone else. I kind of thought of her as his voice of reason, even if he didn’t always listen to her. Still, their relationship was fun and I wish there had been more of it, especially when he was translating for her. It felt almost like a sibling relationship with a lot of sufferance on her part; she could never really change his mind, but at least she could have her input.
Overall, I found A Practical Guide to Conquering the World to be not quite as much fun as the second book, but I appreciated how much book knowledge was used. I also found I couldn’t quite trust Felix and, even by the end, I didn’t feel I trusted him and his motivations. He didn’t really have anything to lose and seemed to have a great deal of luck, though I think a lot of it came down to semantics and interpretation. It was amusing in a tongue-in-cheek way, but not exactly my cup of tea.
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Thank you to Angela Man at Orbit and NetGalley for a review copy. All opinions expressed are my own.
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