Monday, 7 March 2016

Book Review | The Devil You Know by K. J. Parker

The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care.

But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the philosopher is Saloninus—the greatest philosopher, yes, but also the greatest liar, trickster and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust.

He’s almost certainly up to something; but what?


If there's one thing you can say with certainty about the work of K. J. Parker, it's that there's always more to it than meets the eye, so the fact that the personage of K. J. Parker hid a similar mystery made more than a modicum of sense. Who was he really? What might his use of a pseudonym mean? Was he even a he?

For a decade these questions played a part in damn near every discussion of the aforementioned author, and factored, furthermore, into the mystique surrounding everything he'd written in addition. Then, late last April, the big secret was revealed: K. J. Parker was indeed a he, and his alter ego was Tom Holt. Of course.

In the wake of the stories surrounding the announcement, I found myself wondering whether we might not have lost some of the patented K. J. Parker magic in the course of getting to know the unknown. Well, if The Devil You Know is anything to go on, the answer to that question is a resounding no.

After the small wonder that was The Last Witness, a taut tale about a gambler who bets on memories, an equally brief book about a business transaction sounded, I'll say, decidedly less exciting. But things get very interesting very quickly, because the deal that sets this subversive story in motion is between a famous philosopher known as Salonius and—well... the devil. Or at least his employee of the year.

The former fellow will be familiar to folks who remember reading Blue and Gold—either in its own right or as part of K. J. Parker's sought-after Subterranean Press collection, Academic Exercises—as a Jack of all trades who dabbled, in that narrative, in alchemy. His dabbling, alas, led to the death of his knife of a wife, but on the bright side, "after writing all those amazing books and inventing all that amazing stuff, he finally became rich as a result of discovering how to make synthetic blue paint." (pp.20-21)

But for some, money is not enough—and so to The Devil You Know, which stars a Salonius approaching the end of his life with what he says is his single greatest ambition still unfulfilled. His appeal to the Powers That Be for a mite more time inspires a swathe of suspicions in the demon dispatched to discuss terms with said, but with the immortal soul of such a significant figure on offer, the deal is done with just a little dickering.
Our standard form of contract— 
Slightly amended to suit the specific requirements of the customer, but the core phraseology, the magic words that do the business, always stay the say—indefeasibly and absolutely devise and remit, in perpetuity, and so forth. In this case, we'd thrown in a guaranteed twenty years of healthy life, plus rejuvenation to age twenty-five. Apart from that, he was entitled to the usual package of benefits; access to limited specified supernatural powers through the agency of his designated case officer. That would be me. (p.32)
When his charge begins behaving strangely, Salonius' so-called case officer's earlier concerns reemerge. The erstwhile alchemist invades a country—whether for power, prestige or because "years ago a Mysian kicked sand in his face on a beach somewhere [...] you just don't know" (p.48)—then sets about bringing his dead wife back to life. But hang on a cotton-pickin' minute; he didn't even like her!
I was deeply troubled. Not in itself unusual; but I had a distinct feeling that I'd missed something. That's not a normal or comfortable feeling for me. I don't miss things. Like I said, I live and have my being in the detail. Also, if I had that feeling, it was because I was meant to. It was as thought he'd put up a big painted sign saying UP TO SOMETHING and was sitting directly beneath it. (p.59)
Our demon just doesn't understand—which goes some way towards making him the more relatable of The Devil You Know's pair of narrators. Repeated reflections on his "God-given" (p.75) gift for keeping secrets make Salonius himself seem smug and superior; his case officer, on the other hand, is an actual agent of evil, but at least he's decent. For a demon.

Confusing this issue still further is the fact that both of the aforementioned perspectives are explicated in the first-person, without even a twist in tense to differentiate them. By design, I dare say, this decision is likely to leave some readers feeling frustrated, but as with anything Parker has a hand in, there's a method behind the apparent madness, and in this instance, the method is seemingly meaningful, and finally fulfilling.

Add to the cleverly-conceived characters The Devil You Know depends upon any number of K. J. Parker's other trademarks: droll dialogue; engrossing asides; the winningly disinterested way he works in worldbuilding; a smorgasbord of semi-colons; and finally a feeling, from the first, that there's more to this story than meets the eye. Like Salonius says:
Keeping secrets from the All-Seeing isn't as hard as it sounds. The key is making sure they don't correctly interpret what they see. Simple misdirection; the street conjurer's stock-in-trade. (p.74)
This is K. J. Parker's gift: the ability to tell one story while seeming to tell another—and it's as satisfying here as it's ever been.


The Devil You Know
by K. J. Parker

US Publication: March 2016,

Buy this book from /
The Book Depository

Or get the Kindle edition

Recommended and Related Reading


  1. BROTHERHOOD OF ILLUMINATI Easy way to join the Illuminati brotherhood in the world. Are you a business man or woman,an artist,Politicians,pastor, and you want to become big, Powerful and famous in the world, join us to become one of our official member shall be given an ideal chance to visit the Satan. or you are from a poor background, and you really want to be famous in life.or do you want to become very rich in life, this is the chance for you to become rich and eradicate poverty from your life, the illuminati want to use this to help the poor and also to make people famous in life, if you are really ready to become a member of the illuminati temple than contact Mr JOHN.Via EMAIL..illuminatilordmater@gmail.comso that we can make your dream come through. i want to promise you that you will not regret this so i want you to join us now and live a very happy life. or call us on +2348164074840 for more information..


    The church of satan was created by our late hight priest magus anton szandor lavey on walpurgisachd 1966 as year one,since that date the church of satan
    and anton szandor lavey have become household name,the opening and floodgates of a revolution designed to smash the hypocrisy and unreason of organised religion and mystical philosophies of either rigit or left handpaths.
    our primary goals is to clearly disseminate the philosophy created by Anton szandor lavey to those who have an intrest in becoming a member of the church of satan, we are looking for a few outstanding individual who have what it takes to be one of the Alite elite.To us satan is the symbol that best suite the nature of we who are carner by birth.the name "illuminati" is a name given to the church of satan because of the aim of the church and the name "illuminati" means ALL FOR ONE or WE ARE ALL ONE.
    The church of satan is a religion that best suit men who want to increase their wisdom,their talent,their famouness and their wealth. the church of satan have help so many people in worldwide till date, the blessing of the church of satan is unlimited and can never stop if you are a member.
    Satanism is not for everyone but if you choose to be a member,we welcome of satan is not a fan club,a pen pal society,or a loney heart group, the church of satan is a group of dynamic individuals who stand forth as the ultimate underground alternative -the Alien Elite. we realize what we have,what we are and what we shall become. our scope is unlimited and extent of your involvement is base upon your own potential.
    Beware of who you contact if you choose to become member of the church of satan because not all post are real. the church of satan is not a play ground for kids or those who just want to become a member and posses wealth, before joinning the church of satan you must have something you engage yourself in that you want the church of satan to PLEASE NOTE: There is no local branched on any local contact through which one can become a member, the only central administration office is only here in U.S.A in new york
    church of satan 666
    new york
    email: whatsapp number +2349073889037
    phone calls are not accepted or returned.
    That is the administration office, if you choose to make your dreams come true you can join through that address giving above or if you think that you can not make it to U.S.A you can send a mail to that email address that is also there, so that you can be instruct how to join the church of satan
    WARNING: only those who are intrested to become a member of the church of satan are allow to visit office or send a mail to the email address below.
    Do not contact if you are not intrested and once you contact there is no going back. so think befor contacting. OR whatsapp number +2349073889037.