No matter what we might believe, we are all pawns in a far larger, longer game than we can imagine
The unnamed narrator of The Long Game is an Adept, a member of an Ecclesiastical order charged, among other things, with opposing a race of immaterial demons, creatures capable of possessing and controlling human minds. Complicating the narrator’s life is the fact that, over time, he has developed a cordial “relationship” with one of the demons. Complicating matters further is the unexpected arrival of Amalasomtha, a young woman with impossible abilities who claims to have come from the remote — perhaps mythical — country of Idalia. She also claims that, for reasons she does not entirely understand, she has been tasked with capturing one such demon and returning with it to Idalia. The truth, it turns out, is considerably more complex.
Amalasomtha’s arrival sets in motion a chain of events encompassing murder, magic, deception, and an array of unintended consequences. By the story’s end, this consistently witty account of demonic possession, hidden agendas and Ecclesiastical politics has taken us to some unexpected places and given us a glimpse of a larger story still, the “long game” that lies at the heart of all human history.
This new novella from K. J. Parker seems to be set around the same demon mythology that the author introduced in Prosper’s Demon, and has appeared in a few other recent novellas. It’s a novella that displays all of Parker’s fantastic gifts for storytelling: a playful humour, intelligence, and a well-paced and -balanced narrative. As expected, I really enjoyed this.
The demons in this mythology can take over a person’s mind and body without them knowing. They do this for a multitude of reasons: boredom, spite, and a means to further the Long Game of the title. You see, the universal design is so huge, so complex, that it may never actually come to fruition. No being involved is capable of seeing the whole tapestry. Nevertheless, there are plenty who are still playing, manipulating their compatriots, enemies, and friends to shift things just a little bit further along. The unnamed adept in this novella has an uneasy relationship with a particular demon: they help each other out, they make sure things are never too difficult for the other, and so forth. They are also both sort-of-embarrassments for their own sides.
In The Long Game, Parker expands readers’ view of the world, adding in Amalosomtha, someone who appears to have incredible abilities that she shouldn’t have, and yet also a lack of knowledge of where those powers come from. She has been tasked by her masters to track down and capture a demon, to bring home with her to turn the tides in her nation’s own war. The narrator finds this a terrible idea, given that demons allowed to run free in a nation that has no mechanisms for controlling or exorcising them would be a disaster. (But probably rather fun for the demon, or demons, in question.)
If you are already familiar with Parker’s novellas and wider fantasy universe, then you’ll be well-prepared for what you’ll find in The Long Game: it’s another excellent novella, packed with all of the hallmarks of a great Parker story. There are some twists, some nice reveals, engaging characters, and plenty of wry humour. As always: very highly recommended.
K. J. Parker’s The Long Game is due to be published by Subterranean Press, in March 2022.