Written by K. J. Parker, The Hammer is a standalone novel set on an island populated by a farming colony, a tribe of nomadic savages, and an exiled noble family, the Met’Ocs. An uneasy and unspoken arrangement exists among these three groups—the colonists allow the armed Met’Ocs to pillage their farms in exchange for protection against the savages.
The oldest Met’Oc brother, Stheno, is the strongest and runs the family farm on the Tabletop, a naturally fortressed formation enhanced to be more defensible. The second-eldest, Luso, is the most agile and hunts, protects, and raids. The youngest, Gignomai—neither as strong as Stheno nor as agile as Luso—helps around the farm but dreams of being an entrepreneur. When Gignomai’s father suggests that he study law, Gignomai runs away from home to build a factory on the savages’ land in aid of the colonists. In doing so, he sets in motion a chain of events that will forever change the island and the dynamics among its people.
Despite his role as protagonist, Gignomai acts with a persistent air of enigma, yet we are fed just enough facts so that the mystery fascinates rather than frustrates. Gignomai embodies a charming and sometimes ominous je ne sais quoi that keeps everyone, including the reader, guessing as to any potential secondary motives. He’s all brain, leading us to wonder about his heart. If you want a strong emotional tie to the protagonist, you may not find it here. Gignomai, like all the characters in The Hammer, is strongly goal-oriented and leaves little room in his heart for love. He certainly never places love first.
The secondary characters are not particularly sympathetic either, but I still grew to care greatly for them, in part because they are forced to live outside their comfort zones. Exiled into poverty, the Met’Ocs try to maintain a semblance of their former lives. The town merchant—who only wanted to rip people off without pissing them off—is elected mayor despite his protests. These are trying times, and the peoples’ faults and deficiencies make them real. I particularly enjoyed the thought processes of the so-called “savages” whose logic and illogic nicely contrasted with that of the more “civilized” folks.
Intrigue seeps into the politics of family, land, and state. As mentioned above, the characters are goal-oriented, and their machinations move the plot along at a swift pace, though it may be a while before you realize the grand scheme. Parker constructs a puzzle for those who wish to solve it, but for the rest of us, each puzzle piece is sufficiently engrossing in itself to keep us occupied as the pieces fall together on their own.
Why should you read this book?
If you just want a good story with some twists and turns, you’ll be satisfied. But if you want more from The Hammer, you’ll get plenty of ideas to stew on as well. The Hammer will have you thinking about how being born into the wrong family can stifle you or propel you forward; how what we choose to forget ceases to exist—unless someone never forgot in the first place; how staying true to one’s self can lead to the total abandonment of one’s self, and vice versa; and how people so dependent on one another nevertheless occupy entirely different planes of existence—until “the hammer” nails them all together. I absolutely recommend this book.
Benni received a review copy of this book courtesy of Orbit.