A solid meh on my enjoyment scale.
Historical military fiction with a snarky first person narrator. Engineers will likely love this ode to their profession and ingenuity, and fans of military strategy should enjoy the details as well. The story centers on a former slave, Orhan, who is now the leader of a large group of engineers in the army of his oppressor, the Empire of Robur. When bad things start happening to the Empire, he finds himself working to defend it using all his ingenuity and guile. Lying, tricking, killing–all will be used in the defense of the Empire. There’s a lot of detail about ropes, beams, siege machines ,and strategies against fortified walls, leading to the titular ‘sixteenth way,’ a new way used when there’s absolutely no hope at all. For those into historical military fiction, I’m told the Robur Empire is the Byzantine Empire and the capital is its Constantinople.
The mordant humor is what may redeem the book for many. I’m no stranger to twisted humor, but this is not in a Murderbot kind of way, where someone talks a tough game but actually goes around saving people. This is “I legit did a bunch of shitty things and I’m going to keep doing them in a somewhat inept” kind of way. A more flawed narrator I have not seen since Glotka in Abercrombie’s series, so take that for what you will.
A further damning note for fantasy readers: there is nothing fantastical about it at all, except Parker makes the oppressing people
black blue and the MC ‘milky’ in skin tone, an authorial move that may or may not be problematic, but certainly seems tone deaf. Since this is essentially lazy historical military fiction, I’ll further note that slave status based on color and women treated like chattel are the norm.
The theme is pretty rough and depressing as well. Basically, people suck and even as you try to help, they’ll misunderstand and undermine you. I’ll note that a number of reviewers felt the ending was truncated and disappointing. I’ll agree; it was almost like both Orhan and Parker were tired out. Me too.
I’m definitely done with this series.