Stephen Palmer (Bryn Llewellyn is an old pseudonym he doesn't use anymore) is always a treat to read. His writing proceeds at such a good clip. The stories have a rhythm that seems to flow just perfectly; the stories all seem to accelerate as his books proceed to conclusion, and this book is no exception. But along the way, the comfortable start and cruise through his imagination is a fun ride to be on.
The Rat and the Serpent describes a world that is both fantasy, and simultaneously a world we recognize. We see in it bureaucracy alongside people who aspire to break free of it. The city itself is a character, old, covered in soot, yet alive and an active character in the story. There are flawed participants, and even more deeply flawed heroes.
It's got Palmer's normal "willing to bend reality to fit the story", too. While set in a byzantine earth, there are elements of the story that could only be described as fantasy - which give him the freedom to tell a fanciful, and fun story.
There's a clear hint that Stephen is poking a stick in the eye of governance. All along the way, I kept repeating to myself the best phrase from one of Douglass Adams' excellent Hitchhikers Guide books (The Restaurant at the end of the Universe to be precise):
To summarize: it is a well-known fact, that those who most want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job. To summarize the summary of the summary: people are a problem.
Well, at the end of The Rat and the Serpent it wasn't people who were the problem precisely, but I'm sure the story in the book is a perfectly fine allegory for People being a Problem in reality.
Again, this was another fine read by Mr. Palmer. Hopefully he gets done with scanning in & publishing his old, out-of-print but soon-to-be-electronic books, and writes us something new. :-)