The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book Two of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks June 2014
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton
If you haven’t already read the first book in Philip’s Devices trilogy, my review is here, and you should go and read it immediately. No, you really must. It is absolutely necessary before you approach the second volume.
Then you should go here and read his excellent short story here. Set in the same world, it occurs between the first and second volumes, and it takes me back to the days when a Doctor Who novel would be advertised by a specially written prelude in Doctor Who Magazine. Philip wrote a few Who novels by the way, and with that gratuitous reference, on with the review.
The Locksley Exploit was released by Snowbooks in June, and it’s already August. Review lag is a common problem, but at least I have an excuse! I’d been waiting to read the second volume for some time, and am miffed I have to wait until next year for the third. Still, that’s books for you.
On to the review…
While I like the idea that trilogy volumes should be able to stand alone, that rather defeats the idea of a trilogy. The theme of this second volume was set up about halfway through the preceding volume, which is a good sign – it lets you know there’s a structure, a plan, an arc if you will. This is both its strength and its weakness, as the narrative voice sometimes struggles and there is a sense that this is more about a build up to the conclusion than on the story told within the volume itself.
But none of this detracts from the fact that these are gritty, violent, modern tales which have some bloody good storytelling at their core (At the back of my mind I was thinking “this is to Kingsman as The Professionals were to Roger Moore’s James Bond”).
Where The Pendragon Protocol set up the Circle as a paramilitary reimagining of the Knights of the Round Table, The Locksley Exploit charts their clash with a similar group of anarchic eco-guerillas, the Green Chapel, whose inspiration comes from the legend of Robin Hood. And just as Robin was himself a former knight, so too the leader of these merry misfits – Jory Taylor, “outlaw, terrorist, kidnapper, thief” – is a former member of the Circle and protagonist of the first volume. Exploiting their secrets to effect the theft of that most sacred Arthurian artefact – the Holy Grail – this begins a war between Camelot and Sherwood, although the battleground is much more mundane (London, Bristol and Cheshire). Behind all of this lies a analogy of modern fundamentalist extremism, the Saxon Shield.
While the hero’s journey – from Jory>Gawain>Green Knight>Robin Hood – is a logical one, the series itself subverts many of the values, themes and ideas of the original Celtic and Anglo-Saxon legends, and it is the sharp, witty prose that meanders through them that makes the story rewarding, providing a very solid reminder that urban fantasy isn’t just about vampires, werewolves, fairies and wizards. I would perhaps have liked a little more drama and a little more subversion – especially around the set-piece replays of past mythical events – but sometimes you have to go with the flow, and enjoy the thing for what it is.