The mysterious K.J. Parker has been well regarded among fantasy fans, thanks to his novels like The Folding Knife, Sharps, and the serialized Two of Swords. But I haven’t explored his work before delving into this intriguing novella, released as part of Tor’s new novella series, which also includes works by such acclaimed authors as Nnedi Okorafor and Seanan McGuire.
The Last Witness follows a nameless narrator, blessed (cursed?) with the ability to steal memories from people. Haunted by the death of a lost love? Need a witness to forget about a murder? Our narrator can pluck the memories from your brain, intermingling them with his own.
This gift makes him fabulously wealthy, but also puts him in the crosshairs of a powerful father and son, who use his talents to track down embezzlers and then try to cover their tracks by removing him as well. His tendency to gamble away his earnings doesn’t help either.
As the story unfolds, the narrator attempts to create a new life in a foreign land, stealing the memories of a famous musician to learn how to play himself. But his past, revealed in stream-of-consciousness recollections shows just how monstrous his actions have been. And soon others are coming to claim their due.
The unreliability of the narrator can be dizzying is he describing his own past or some nameless client’s? Is his guilt his own or someone else’s? And he is quite unlikeable, although Parker does make him sympathetic at points. And he brings The Last Witness home with a wonderful, mind-bending finale that leaves the reader (and the narrator) questioning most of the previous events.
Because: After all, what is truth but the consensus of memories of reliable witnesses?” ~~ Michael Senft