The company is the second K.J. Parker book I’ve read, after Sharps. Like Sharps, it’s got a very Shakespearian feel. This time, the focus is on a group of old friends and their attempt to retire rather than the political intrigues of Sharps. The company fits firmly into the mold of 18th-century island books while retaining a modern writing style and classic themes.
Brief plot summary
Five embittered war veterans, led by their former commanding officer Kunessin, attempt to make their wartime retirement fantasies come true by creating an intentional community on an abandoned island. Kunessin has managed to assemble the necessary supplies, and the five men quickly find five women willing to marry them and come live on the island.
So how is it?
It’s really good, but it’s not a happy book. It’s a classic novel, not in the sense that it will become a well-loved work that will be treasured by generations to come, but that it hews closely to the traditions of Classical tragedy. Hamartia is definitely a major factor in the way the plot develops. Events develop quickly and the inevitable conclusion is visible to the reader but not the characters.
The characters of The company are presented as normal, everyday people trying to make their dreams come true in the face of an uncaring world. While famed for their exploits during the war, the veterans are not remotely heroic. They aren’t despicable people, either: this isn’t Joe Abercrombie or George R.R. Martin. It’s closer to a capital-L Literary take on Steven Erikson, with flawed, multifaceted characters instead of archetypal heroes and villains. It’s a dark book, but retains a sense of humor. It becomes clear fairly early on that Kunessin’s ownership of the island is questionable at best, and he may not have acquired the supplies being used to found their colony completely honestly.
The company is not exactly a subtle book. There’s little to no subtext, as the issues presented are stated fairly openly. Some might find it heavy-handed, but I felt like it fit well with the kind of classical style Parker is going for. Like Sharps, The company is an exceedingly well-crafted book. It’s not happy, but the resolution is incredibly strong and it definitely provides catharsis.
I decided to take a break from Parker after reading this one – I enjoyed it and devoured it pretty quickly, but at the time I was ready for something a little lighter.
Like Sharps, The company is almost a fantasy novel for people who hate fantasy novels. It’s more like Literature than it is escapist fantasy, and definitely would appeal to fans of historical fiction.
Copying my cross-recommendations from Sharps here, with some minor alterations