Like the immanently forthcoming Prosper’s Demon, My Beautiful Life is a pure K.J. Parker novella. It’s snarky and cynical, fascinated and repelled by power in equal measure. Bad men doing bad things for arguably decent reasons.
And in My Beautiful Life, the narrator isn’t even that bad! Sure, he accidentally puts out his brother’s eye for blaspheming, and sure, he’s complicit in dozens of thefts, hundreds of murders, and multiple coups, but our narrator actually wants to do the right thing. He wants to rescue the empire from greedy patricians and give bread and hope back to the people. He genuinely believes that the Invincible Sun is answering his prayers, and that his sacred duty is to protect the Sun’s empire.
Unfortunately, the imperial court is a nest of vipers and there are enemies massing on the border. Doing as he believes the Sun wishes will not be easy. In fact, it may compromise what little is left of his soul. But what is one man’s soul compared to the survival of the empire? The narrator agrees that it’s not such a high price to pay. So he sets about destroying his own life even more thoroughly than either his unfortunate childhood or his vicious brothers could do.
It’s an intense, fast-paced political thriller, and it’s nice to see Parker writing about slightly more positive themes, even if those themes are still drenched in blood. He likes his twists so much, and they always go such dark direction that even the slightly more optimistic slant felt extremely bright. It was a fun read, and at only about 100 pages it was a quick, intense ride.