Prosper’s Demons by K. J. Parker is a curious little novella. It got a lot of things right for me.
The narrator is a morally gray exorcist of demons. Demons in this Renaissance-esque landscape possess people and make them do terrible things. Exorcist don’t negotiate. They do what they need to to extract them. It hurts the demons a lot but the results in the death of the possessed. There’s little room for doubt in these matters.
I’m a big fan of an emotionally questionable protagonist. The narrator of this story was witty and uncompromising in his duties. But the narrative seems to challenge him in the character of Prosper of Schanz who’s possession promises to bring some good to the human race. At least in the short term. Seeing him debate this with the spirit proper was some one the highlights of the book. That and his acerbic wit.
But that narrator also hurts the book, strangely enough. The reader is set firmly in his thoughts. The world wasn’t as explored as I would’ve liked and the spirits, Them, are hard to picture. That’s the point to a certain extent but they never really have any narrative weight due to how the narrator talks about Them.
I feel like I would’ve enjoyed the story if we were just one step outside his head. I want to get arm deep in this world but the narrator’s perspective never gives me a chance to relish the detail. I ultimately thought it was an OK book for this reason.
The unnamed and morally questionable narrator is an exorcist with great follow-through and few doubts. His methods aren’t delicate but they’re undeniably effective: he’ll get the demon out — he just doesn’t particularly care what happens to the person.
Prosper of Schanz is a man of science, determined to raise the world’s first philosopher-king, reared according to the purest principles. Too bad he’s demonically possessed.