So is it just me, or everyone else getting tired of me writing reviews about books I liked and/or loved? No? Just me then? Well luckily for you, I have another one of those reviews that you can’t get enough of. Fortunately, this one is a short little piece for a perfectly sized book. If you haven’t already guessed, I’ll be talking about Prosper’s Demon by K.J. Parker, an explosive novella that knows exactly what it’s doing and has a blast doing it. I’ve never read any of Parker’s other books, unless you count some of his works as Tom Holt (which is the real one?), making this novella an extremely pleasant experience.
Prosper’s Demon is told through the eyes of an exorcist that lives in a land reminiscent of Renaissance Italy. However, the main character, whom I’ll just refer to as the Exorcist (he goes unnamed) is fairly brutal and efficient in his exorcisms. He doesn’t really mind a little collateral damage, as long as the demon is forced out and the “greater good” is served. On top of that, he takes special pleasure in knowing that while demons never die, they feel exponentially more pain than a person upon their removal. The problem is his next target is a genius, artist, and scientist named Prosper of Schanz, who also happens to be tutoring the next king.
I apologize in advance for the amount of gushing that this short review will contain; it will honestly feel like an advertisement, but I’m quite okay with it (note I was not paid, but did receive a free copy from the publisher). This is easily my favorite novella, and for good reason. Parker absolutely nails the narration from the exorcist. Two pages in and he knows you hate him as much as he hates himself, but what can you do? Me, I just kept reading, pulled into the exorcist’s head as he regaled me with his tales of demon hunting. His lack of morality matches his wealth of cunning and cruelty. The way he describes his feelings is palpable, tangible and utterly relatable. I feel weird being so enthralled by him, but he’s such a convincing character that you buy into his pathological tendencies. He’s definitely not a good guy and he recognizes it, but he also knows that it’s you who really holds the ability to judge him. I do want to highlight that this is a dark book. Funny, too, but it’s pretty dark. There is a sadism present on every page, and a very casual, almost gleeful, acceptance of it by the exorcist himself. This is just what he does. He’s good at it, really fucking good at it, and I love him for it.
Beyond the main character, Parker does an incredible amount with so little space. I think it helps that he pulls from well known tropes within western enlightenment and renaissance history, but it feels deliberate. You immediately know how the world works, and he’s just peeling back the curtains. It’s an excellent way to fast track the story to focus on this single event, the exorcism of Prosper of Schanz, and holy hell is it an event. The whole novella builds up to it, as if the first page was a match being lit and you’re watching the spark wind through hallways to its ultimate destination. It’s fast and it’s furious, and it’s one heck of a ride. The demons themselves have a character to them as well. I won’t spoil too much, they are too much fun to encounter on your own, but I will say it’s easily my favorite representation of demons in fantasy. There is a weird humanity to them that is twisted by their nature, and twisted further still by the exorcist’s point of view. It’s brilliant.
I could go on about just how effective this book is at selling its incredibly short story. Chatter gleefully about it’s stark and cynical meditations on some of the greatest western enlightenment and renaissance ideas. But really, I just want you to read it. It’s dark, it’s horrible, it’s funny, it’s absolutely messed up, but it’s a great time and an excellent example of how much can be done in one hundred pages. K.J. Parker, this book has possessed me to finally pick up more of your work, you glorious monster.
Rating: Prosper’s Demon 10/10