Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City - ironic fantasy
Students of military history know that there are fifteen proven ways to defend a walled city. Unfortunately they all require things like catapults, weaponry, and soldiers. What the capitol of the Robur empire has are nice thick walls, five hundred watchmen, a few gardeners, some gladiators, and the Corps of Engineers led by Colonel Felix Orhan. Sadly, they also have an enemy that numbers thirteen thousand with the best armor and swords the empire can buy. Felix could run away and become a farmer somewhere, or even join the enemy since they are also pale skinned "barbarians", but he chooses the third option which involves making up a sixteenth method for defending a walled city.
In his own words Felix suffers from a chronic skin condition; his is the wrong color. Despite this affliction the former slave has managed a comfortable, if friendless, career in the Imperial Corps of Engineers. Technically soldiers, these skilled craftsmen spend most of their time building bridges and patching up the occasional aqueduct. When it comes to requisitioning supplies he is a master at working around Imperial bureaucracy and seeing that his men get paid on time. In other words, he forges documents and employs counterfeiters. Now that he finds himself in charge of a city under seige he leverages those contacts to buy off the two gladiator factions which are basically the city's organized crime. He happily ignores what's left of the government, devalues the currency (its not like there's anything to spend it on in the middle of a seige anyway), and sets out to fake his way to a defense for as long as he can.
The writing is more into witicisms than serious fantasy and it's ironic, facetious, and sarcastic. Most people in technical careers, not just various kinds of engineering, can identify with the establishment expecting them to get things done while making it as difficult as possible to do so. For those who like the nitty gritty of ancient warfare there are plenty of details about armor and weapons to keep you sated but not enough to bore everyone else. Underlaying the entertaining witicisms are many pointed comments regarding all kinds of equality, politics, and the less attractive aspects of human nature. There are also some fun sequences that defy good sense but celebrate human ingenuity and daring. It all adds up to Orhan's account of a sixteenth way to defend a walled city.
Tom Holt has written a few books under the name KJ Parker. Sixteen Ways is available on Audible, Ebook, or paperback with four and half stars.