Author K. J. Parker (also known as Tom Holt) has two books out about a siege of a thinly disguised fantasy Constantinople. The Robur Empire is made of up of two kinds of people: the Robur, and everyone else. But most of the residents of the Empire are “everyone else”, and most of the folks who enlist in the army are “everyone else”, and one of their leaders, Ogus, has had enough. He’s subverted the provincial armies and taken over the entire empire…except for the City.
That description makes it sound like Ogus is the hero; which he ain’t.
In Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, the Colonel of the Imperial Regiment of Engineers, a milkface named Ornhas, is the senior officer left in the City when the besieging army arrives—because everyone else, from the emperor’s top aide on down, has fled. He’s faced with defending the city for the Robur against Ogus—his childhood friend, with whom he mostly agrees—because it’s his job.
How to Rule an Empire and Get Away with It concerns the seventh year of the siege in which Notker, a playwright, actor, and mimic of important people, is forced to stand in for the Hero of the Siege (who has just been killed by an enemy bombardment) and ends up being made emperor.
Both of these books are intended to be funny in an observational sort of guy-stuck-riding-the-tiger kind of way. I found them interesting, not usually all that funny, and more than a little tedious in spots, but I also got the feeling that Parker had done his research about Constantinople, history, and siegecraft. This is supposedly a fantasy world, but there a none of the trappings of fantasy beyond a bunch of made up names and peoples, all of which have a greco-roman sound. Even the religion of the Robur, supposedly the worship of the Invincible Sun, is a thinly disguised Christianity.
So…not sorry I read them, because history geek; but not firing on all cylinders as humorous fantasy either. Which, when I got to the end of the second and discovered that K.J. Parker is a pseudonym for Tom Holt, surprises me not at all.