Inside Man – Outside The Box

“As if Deadpool had slipped into the body of the Witcher Geralt,” reads the NYT book review of K.J. Parker’s Prosper’s Demon. And the NYT is mostly correct in that description. We reviewed (and unilaterally enjoyed) Prosper’s Demon last year, going so far as to give the novella a perfect 10. Prosper’s Demon earned the perfect score–there was nothing amiss, no extra fat. Just a story told in exactly the number of words Parker needed. Inside Man, the sequel novella, echoes some of the deranged wonderment found in Prosper’s Demon, though it fumbles the hand-off in some ways. 

Our exorcist friend from the first book returns, though he’s no longer the POV character in Inside Man. Instead, we’re treated to the perspective of a “fragile” demon sentenced to interrupt the prayers of monks and make them question their faith. But when the corporate-esque powers that be need a demon to work with the famed exorcist in pursuit of the mysterious and vague capital-P “Plan,” our nameless demon friend is the perfect fit for the job. 

Much like in Prosper’s, Parker’s prose is still delectable. The demon’s thoughts and descriptions of his existence (he is immortal but can be made to feel immensely excruciating pain; all of his body parts are hilariously “metaphorical”) serve pithy passages that summon the occasional smile or chuckle. Descriptions are punchy, pacing is fast, and Parker is here to get things done. Frankly, Parker’s prose is just plain fun to read. 

The exquisite prose leads to more plain fun from the nameless characters that make up the cast. The exorcist is as terrible and oxymoronically lovable as ever, and the addition of a demonic perspective adds flavorful characterization that Prosper’s hinted at. Inside Man executes on the promise and gives readers a real treat in the form of a hellspawn deemed fragile who has to find his way in a predetermined “Plan.” These characters offer more chutzpah than a cavalcade of cookie-cutter fantasy competitors. Despite being nameless, these characters’ identities shine through dialogue, inner thoughts, and interactions with the world. Who needs a name when you’re up to some demonic tomfoolery?

Glorious prose: check. Wonderful characters: check. Plot: ehhhhhhhh. There’s probably a whole host of smarter readers out there really enjoying this book’s narrative. But for me, it didn’t *click.* Prosper’s Demon boasted a tight, focused story with a clear dilemma for the exorcist and a satisfying outcome. The story was contained, and Parker understood its scope well enough to tell the tale in a diminutive page count. Inside Man, on the other hand, attempts a larger-scale narrative with a scant 20-page advantage over the prequel. In the midst of the engaging prose, I had to stop and ask myself “What the (literal) hell is happening here?”

To be fair, even the main character is confused as he tries to parse out who’s pulling which strings. It’s all fine and dandy until the world bursts wide open to encompass warring countries. I know the exorcist and our demon “protagonist” get involved in these affairs, but by the time the novella ended I scratched my head in confusion. Inside Man struggles to expand its world because it doesn’t need to. Instead of a contained and supremely entertaining quickfire tale, the novella introduces too many concepts at once, leaving a little to be desired. 

One fact remains, though: K.J. Parker has writing chops, and they enjoy the spotlight in Inside Man. Even if you struggle with the plot as I did, there’s still much demonic goodness to chew on here, and the 126 page count makes it a cautiously recommendable follow-up to Prosper’s Demon.

Rating: Inside Man – 7.0/10

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