Trojans by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book Three of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks, October 2016

320pp £7.99
Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

The title jars in comparison to the first two volumes – The Pendragon Principle and The Locksley Exploit. Would a Camelot riff really have given too much away? This bugged me a little more at first than perhaps it should – probably because it just doesn’t look right on the shelf. But books aren’t about aesthetics, and the judging really is in the reading, and this is the best of the three. 

   Picking up seven years after he ended a War between the secret Camelot (The Circle) and the rather more eco-anarchic Sherwood (The Green Chapel), Jory Taylor has become the living embodiment of the Pendragon Device (a sort of Jungian memeplex that defines him as The High King of Britain), Jordan, the One true king, ushering in a new age of art, culture and prosperity. Camelot has returned, offering us a completely different type of Brexit to the one everyone is worried about.

   Of course, the book’s length belies the brevity of the title, exploring the themes of Blake, Mallory, White and Moorcock, but as seen through the eyes of Torchwood characters. That may sound like a mash-up, but it isn’t, and the concept behind the ‘Devices’ is modern, unashamedly intelligent, with a good dose of wry wit whilst adding a twist that sets the trilogy apart from its comparators. For all of this the characters, and the dichotomy of knowing what they are yet being oblivious to the themes they represent, are what this book is about (previously I’d had a problem with ‘set-piece reenactments’ – less so here). Philip has hit his stride with this final volume, and I can only hope he gets to revisit the trilogy, perhaps as an audio drama series, or perhaps as a set of special hardback editions, where the first two volumes can be that hindsight sometimes affords.given the “author’s preferred polish”.

   While I shan’t spoiler the book, I will say that the while the ending worked, it wasn’t where I expected the book to go. That’s probably because I don’t quite share the author’s values. Or because I wanted more.

buy now at amazon

The Locksley Exploit

 The Locksley Exploit



The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book Two of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks June 2014
320pp £7.99

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.

buy now at amazon

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

20150327-011147.jpg Ten years ago the long awaited Hitchhikers’ movie finally hit cinemas, arriving only four years after the sad demise of its creator, Douglas Adams. Without the writer at the helm, everyone had a bad feeling, and with hindsight, perhaps, it made no lasting impact. Putting all my apprehensions behind me (there were three biggest of which was my fear of the Arthur-Trillian romance, narrowly followed by Disneyfication and that proper Adamsian dialogue would be missing), I watched the movie, and I concluded (much to my own surprise) that it wasn’t half bad.

The opening number made the biggest splash (pun intended), throwing Stephen Fry’s book straight in at the deep end. Then I sat down to endure the shortened dialogue, which I was dreading. I needn’t have.

There is a famous Adams-Smith-Adams anecdote in which Adams condensed a humorous paragraph into a couple of words, and being reassured that it was Adams who did the snipping, I found that my fan credentials were enough to sustain me. The original words were in my head even as I watched their movie-lite equivalents, and I didn’t actually need them to appear on screen. So I was quickly reconciled to the idea that if the film signposts new readers to the books, or listeners to the radio plays, then… mission accomplished. For me, the film worked best when it added new stuff to the already familiar story. New scenes to fill in gaps that weren’t in the original worked well (although I still can’t believe that Douglas Adams had a hand in the Humma Kavula-and-the-Temple-of-the-Great-Green-Arkleseizure sequence).

After my initial shock, I felt that Zaphod was handled effectively, and Sam Rockwell quickly made the part his own, living up to Mark Wing-Davey’s seminal performance. The rest of the cast also worked well, with the exception of Ford Prefect. Mos Def didn’t quite feel Betelgeusian enough for me, and the shift from Ford as the co-protagonist to Arthur and Zaphod didn’t quite work for me.

The Arthur-Trillian-Zaphod love triangle came and went, turning out not to be as bad as Vogon poetry, although the Adams-revised happy ending felt terribly out of place to me. Yes, it was a revision by the man himself, but even in his prose he never quite got everything right.

The plot hung together in the way that a brick wrapped in a slice of lemon doesn’t. No mention or explanation of Magrathea’s big sleep, no reason given for (a) slicing up Arthur’s brain, or (b) finishing off the Earth Mk II, and Zaphod forgot to get his spare head back from Humma Kavula.

High points? The jewelled crabs of Vogsphere, the point-of-view gun, Stephen Fry as the book, Simon Jones as the ghostly image, and the dedication to Douglas Adams in the credits.

Lows? The happy ending, that stupid juicer (which was funny, but not at all in the style of Douglas Adams), the face slappers (whose absent background by the pen of Adams was doubtless fantastic, but we never got to find out they are the reason why Vogons have thick rubber skin and avoid having ideas), and the absence of a Guide reference to towels.

I was left happy enough to see the film again (which I have, numerous times), and I was even looking forward to the sequel-that-never-happened. No, it wasn’t perfect, and it certainly shows evidence of the film-making process as described by Douglas Adams: that it is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it.

I also found I was minded to go away and write a script in the style of Adams, then hire Stephen Moore and Simon Jones to narrate a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style critique in which Arthur and Marvin interfere, screw it up, and moan incessantly about how they got dumbed down/cut/misquoted/misrepresented, etc. Now that would be my kind of director’s cut.

Thunderbirds are Go!


So, the new Thunderbirds series. After 50 a year gap and a Hollywood-burned movie, my expectations were low. Nothing could top the New Captain Scarlet series, and TAG seemed to be aiming for a younger audience.

That said, this is the first reboot pilot I bothered to check out on first broadcast since… Doctor Who in 2005. Quite how much support it has though… I mean moving it to CBBC at 8am only a week after launch on ITV seems a tad dismissive, especially as we have another 24 episodes to follow.

I was expecting some considerable changes to the format and the characters, and was surprised to see just how much of the original survived. Sadly this didn’t quite include the original theme tune, although there were enough beats to trigger nostalgia, and the end product is definitely a lot closer to the original than the trails had led me to expect.

The WETA workshop’s take on the classic lines of the Thunderbirds themselves really do work. The boy band look and poses of the Tracy boys had certainly set alarm bells ringing, but with the appearance of the episode itself my reservations about the CGI evaporated.

The Thunderbirds themselves look good, retaining most of the original designs and launch sequences, with only Thunderbird 5 bearing any significant changes. The characters, From their the shiny skin to the sometimes clunky poses, certainly recreates the feel of supermarionation. So much so, I fact, that I was expecting the process to be given an Anderson style name. Digimation, perhaps.

Before I review the episode proper (SPOILERS from here on in, folks), perhaps it’s worth looking at the differences.

I understand from the date (2060, as opposed to the original series set five years later) that the show is set before the original. This threw me a little, because some aspects scream sequel, while others cry prequel. In practice this seems to be a reimagining, but sticking very closely to the original so that some original episodes can perhaps fit right into the story arc.

And that’s the weird thing. Instead of thinking no, this isn’t the same, I’m already thinking about the continuity. The rebalancing of the characters works, and perhaps this is where I should start:

Jeff Tracy is nowhere to be seen. mission in action (although keeping the voice of original Jeff actor Peter Dynely for the countdowns was a nice touch). Taking the dad out of the equation keeps the focus on the boys, but if it precedes the original series it sort of spoilers his return. Jeff’s mother (played by Sandra Dickinson) is transplanted into Tracy Island instead, although she reminds me a little too much of Grue’s mum from Despicable Me. Only time will tell if she is a permanent fixture, and I can’t say I’m enamoured.

Scott (Thunderbird 1) seems absolutely the same as the original. I swear that the new voice, Rasmus Hardiker, even sounded like Shane Rimmer at one point.

Virgil (Thunderbird 2), now played by David Menkin, is pretty much unchanged from the original, and I still get him and Scott mixed up, just like I did in the sixties!

Alan (Thunderbird 3), also played by Rasmus Hardiker, is clearly much younger than in the original, but this – along with his early team-up with KayO, reflects the Hollywood film and its Spy Kids style origin. This show may well expunge the live action film from memory, but the younger Alan works, and it gives film fans at least one point of familiarity. My one gripe is that Alan seems far too ungrateful, bemoaning that he has to be babysat, even though he is the one who gets to GO INTO SPACE all the time!

Gordon (Thunderbird 4) the Aquanaut, doubled up by David Menkin, is another straight transfer from the original. At least gets a nice new glass bottom ex makeover for his sub.

John (Thunderbird 5), dogged by the unnecessary holographic excesses of 21st Century TV SF, seems the most unchanged character, although I’m sure his appreciation for Stingray should have gone to Gordon.

Brains, played by Kayvan Novak, is perhaps the biggest surprise, having been turned into an Indian! My fears for an all-white boy band were offset by what they’ve did to him, but I’m not sure if swapping one dodgy accent for another works. That said it’s a not-unwelcome interpretation. His robot sidekick Max does ring a bell though, reminding me of the Fantastic Four’s HERBIE, Johnny 5 and Wall-E all at the same time. Given how the robots of Short Circuit and Chappie were given genius Asian sidekicks, though, he feels a touch cliched.

KayO Kyrano (Thunderbird S), voiced by Angel Coulby, is more an expectation than a surprise. She appears to be the original Tin Tin, but updated for a modern audience. As Head of Security/Covert Ops she’s less of a yellow-faced pulp stereotype, and given a serious role that sets her apart from the boys. Giving her a Thunderbird of her own seemed the right way to go – it would have been a spoiler, but as her portrait sits alongside the other pilots it was pretty well telegraphed (in the credits no less) even if we haven’t yet seen what her ship can do. The fact it didn’t get branded as Thunderbird 6 felt right (and I hope the Tiger Moth will get a role later in the series). As with Jeff Tracy, her father is nowhere to be seen. Whether she is an amalgamation of the two characters, or whether Kyrano is set to return alongside Jeff Tracy, remains to be seen.

Lady Penelope, now voiced by Rosamund Pike, has already been dub led less posh by some critics, but to me she just seems more 21st Century posh than Sylvia Anderson’s 20th Century posh. I dislike her static hair, and I perhaps took too much of a shine to Sophie Myles’ live action version to fully appreciate the character, but I look forward to hearing Sylvia Anderson’s return to the show in later episodes as… Great Auntie Sylvia.

Oddly, Parker looks older than the original, and his voice is reprised by the original, David Graham. That said, he didn’t sound the same, and his appearances were far too short.
I did like that in its chase scene, the Rolls was pitted against a car remarkably similar to the Bugatti Veyron. They seem suited to each other, and it gave a fresh air to the pink supercar.

The Hood is less… Melodramatic. His Asiatic origins have been downplayed and he is less like Fu Manchu than the original, which can only be a good thing. He and KayO/Tin Tin would otherwise have reflected the casual racism of the sixties. So again, another good decision.


Which brings me to the plot. Ring of Fire may not be the most chortle-avoiding title, and has issues when viewed in a single block (it works much better in its two parter for at than as a pilot movie) but overall it does work. All of the principal characters are introduced, the island is explored, all of the Thunderbirds are used and the role of International Rescue is established. Full marks there.

The pacing is, however, a little mercurial. Episodes are shorter than the originals, yet the story still felt like it was progressing at a steady pace. I worry that this might jar for modern audiences, but some older viewers fed back to me that there was too much going on, which left me thinking I had watched a different show!

There were also some nice some lovely blink-and-you’ll-miss-it nods to other Gerry Anderson shows (with a cameo from Stingray itself) and, all in all, TAG is a show that oozes love and affection. It bravely changes only what it needs to, making a few compromises along the way, but it retains much of the spirit of the original, and I found myself forgiving its flaws out of respect for some brave decisions more likely to appeal to the older fans rather than to a new generation. Ultimately, this might cost viewers, which would be sad, although two seasons have already been confirmed, which just begs the question why, if ITV seems committed, do they plan to muck about with the time slot so much?

Rose: Reminiscences


Ten years ago today I was basking in the afterglow of Rose, the pilot episode of the revamped Doctor Who series. Late night internet chats about the show and, more importantly at the time, the additional surprise of Doctor Who Confidential, were abuzz. When I think back, the return of Who was a much bigger deal than the night the ’96 TV movie was simulcast, and vastly more exciting than the complacency with which I watched Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred walking off into the sunset in search of tea and chocolate hobnobs.

My review on livejournal had brief, confirming that the addition of the music music and special effects were a marked improvement on the famously leaked CBC flashcut which had been leaked some time earlier. That leak had spawned my initial review, which focused on the new Doctor – I had been surprised at Eccleston’s casting, given that he liked change and hadn’t really stayed with anything before. Prophetic perhaps, but the rumours of him being a short term Doctor were already circulating. I could see why Russell T Davies had chosen him, and commented that Eccleston’s “Manic Manc” routine worked well as an in-yer-face introduction to the information overload that the pilot story needed to give to the audience. I could also see why Eccleston took the role. I had hated every performance he’d ever given until this one. In advance I had rented out Revenger’s Tragedy to try and get a handle on him, and I had found myself switching it off half way through. But to see Eccleston as the grinning -but-tormented Doctor who hides his pain and his ability to manipulate with a smile, he was great.

I wasn’t 100% certain the costume, and even with all the War Doctor retconning we got later on it still stands out as… well i described it beck then as making the Doctor inconspicuous rather than noticeable. I had always assumed that the ever-flamboyant costumes were a way to distract attention away from the companions, rather than a means of accentuating the Doctor’s quirks. Then again, he’s been around the universe so many times I conceded that he could probably do with a dose of inconspicuity.

My thoughts Rose were, with hindsight, more sceptical than I remember. I called her the chav companion – a deliberate cross between Buffy and Vicky Pollard. Wow, that makes Little Britain over ten years old as well. I did concede that Billie Piper brought credibility to a cultural generation I never quite understood, and she certainly felt like a 19 year old trapped in the wrong world. Her final jump into the TARDIS also felt right, although having the foreknowledge that she would keep in touch with home throughout her adventures with the Doctor felt weird. A decade on the whole thing seems normal – as normal as when Sarah Jane was a companion – but it somehow felt different back the . Wrong almost.

Of all the companions, despite her ties, Rose looked like the girl most likely to not look back! Well, besides Ace.

The TARDIS looked great, if a little functional and claustrophobic. I got the feeling the Doctor didn’t hang around inside it much anymore. I did like the connection between the inner and outer doors though, the coral-over-girders effect and the Angel of the North chic worked well, and i wasn’t pining for stark whites or even the Vernian makeover of ’96. Even better, I could actually can tell that it was inspired by the drawings of Bryan Hitch, although i wasn’t so enamoured of the wobbly hand rail and the big gas-bag over the time rotor though.

The Plot – it reminded me of the last episode of an old four parter, and so far as I could tell it was more about Rose than about the Autons, who were incidental. The plot therefore didn’t stand up much, but then I knew that’s wasn’t really the point and found myself quite forgiving. It also set us up with a hint about what was to come – in the form of the Time War war and all that followed.

Overall I was impressed. I had my moment of dread (the burping wheelie bin), and I recalled how that fear of cheap child-friendly gimmicks stayed with me throughout the entire first season. Such hindsight tells me that the settling down of such inconsistencies was the main reason series two felt so much more comfortable, even though it was series one that delivered the big punch I and Whodom had been waiting for.

The Napoleon of Crime


The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, The Real Moriarty by Ben Macintyre

Harper Press 2012

£8.99 322pp

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

Historian and Times columnist Ben Macintyre has earned himself a niche focusing on war, crime and espionage, with best sellers including Agent Zigzag and Operation Mincemeat. In the wake of his popularity, 2012 saw the rerelease of his second such book,The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, The Real Moriarty (originally published in 1997).

Worth’s modern fame lies in being the primary inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Moriarty, who appropriated Worth’s title, his criminal genius and his penchant for valuable artworks, and Macintyre’s book is the most comprehensive publication available, becoming a much sought-after resource by Sherlockians and Victorian historians alike.

While Macintyre regales us with an inspiring visit into the bowels if the Pinkerton archives, many of the sources he draws upon come from elsewhere, and it is clear that this book is an early work by a writer still learning his craft. While in some cases he goes to great lengths to cite his sources, in others he neglects to quote them – and these are often the most important sources required by the narrative, as they are those which are flavour to the assertions made by the author throughout the book. Indeed, many of Macintyre’s assumptions and conclusions seem contradicted by the detail, and he often grasps at the possible significance of these often unfounded ideas to drive his story forwards.

The facts themselves are fairly straightforward, but the book feels like an episode of Just a Minute, filled with repetitions and deviations. For now it is the definitive volume on Worth’s life, although it could have been half the length and delivered twice the impact. By the end it left me feeling that the next person to tackle the subject might benefit from the hindsight Macintyre’s foray offers, and perhaps put more meat, and less fat, on the bones. His later books are slicker and more effective, and for such a significant book I would hope that he gets the chance to revisit, revise and reissue it as a new and improved edition. It would certainly benefit more than as an unaltered reissue.

Of Worth himself we are given the portrait of a gentleman thief whose exploits are more respected than reviled, and whose tastes for the high life set him amongst the gentry, even earning the admin ration of William, the chief Pinkerton, whose encounter with conan Doyle is said to have inspired Moriarty’s appearance, and whose anger at Doyle’s appropriation of the detail without attribution seems overstated.

Perhaps the most anticipated chapter – that relates to Moriarty’s origin and to the elements of Worth’s career that Doyle appropriates – is painfully short and unsatisfying, in spite of being one of the most thorough pieces available today.

buy now at amazon

Le Roi en Jaune (The King in Yellow)



Le Roi en Jaune (The King in Yellow) by Thomas de Castigne
(‘translated’ by Simon Bucher-Jones)

Pantechnikon Press February 2015

£8.99 108pp

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

Some reviews are approached with trepidation. Especially when it has to be a spoiler-free review, and even more especially where you really like the book, but are doing so in spite, rather than because of its flaws.

So, if you want to know if I think you should read this book, check out the star rating. Understand that I am a big fan of the author’s work, and that this particular book is a paradox: the pleasure you derive from it is entirely subjective, and entirely dependent upon your perspective. The review is critical because that is it’s nature, not because it seeks to find fault.

Robert W Chambers was a writer with promise whose ideas were often startlingly clever, but whose prose never really elevated his reputation outside of his disjointed 1895 anthology, The King in Yellow. Something in this work stirred Lovecraft to capitalise upon its imagery – just as he himself had stolen Hastur and Hali and Carcosa from Ambrose Bierce. It is not, despite modern re-imaginings, a book of the Cthulhu mythos, but neither does it stand alone. Its use of broken glimpses through a longer narrative was unique at the time, with each short story adding to the mystery of the skewed alternate history Chambers was creating, leaving the reader uncertain of what the author intended. To me it was always a curate’s egg, inspiring curiosity but sidestepping satisfaction. From such frustrations come the natural desire to reconstruct and explain, and this is what Simon Bucher-Jones (Like Lin Carter and James Blish before him) has set out to do. I suppose, when I saw the references to The King in Yellow in Simon’s Doctor Who novel The Death of Art, I should have seen this book coming. I am jealous that he achieved this, and yet, paradoxically, I do not envy him.

The title, however, feels wrong. Le Roi en Jaune is the French translation of the original anthology’s title, and is in use as such. From a googling perspective it makes finding the book difficult, and also makes it harder to stand out from the crowd. That and the insufficient amount of yellow in what could have been an otherwise outstanding cover (it did, however, make me superimpose a mental image of a Gustav Klimt painting (Der Kuss) over those which was provided. Now THAT would have worked as a cover).

20150317-141514.jpgThe Chambers book has inspired previous attempts at presenting the very same play. The french playwright Raymond Lefebre did so back in 1933. His version was based on the short story The Repairer of Reputations, which was part of chambers’ original anthology, and was eventually translated from French in 1958. Simon’s book, in my opinion, stands head and shoulders above that attempt… going one step further than Lefebre: he presents the pseudo-play and it’s translation side by side, along with supporting faux-scholarly notes that, irony aside, could almost persuade you that the play was real.

It is an interesting, if confusing, experiment. Now, I like experiments, but this one tries to be too many things at once, and in doing so has a high cool factor, but the end result feels somehow diminished by this. I was constantly asking myself the question: is this a vanity resource for a highly intelligent Call of Cthulhu GM?

Back in the day I would have loved a prop like this, and I’d even have paid top dollar. But as a role-player I’d also have wanted a companion piece; something that gives me the hooks and encounters I could introduce into my adventures. Things that give hidden meaning to the many fragments and vignettes contained within.

From a literary point of view, however, I have to ask myself “is this a play that drives men mad?” The answer (thank goodness) is no. No more than George Hay or Lin Carter or even Simon’s Necronomicons would have done. The difference here is that on some level this seems to be what the author hoped to achieve. And in part – through twists and nods – it does so, but the task, to write a book that drives men mad, is surely hampered by the things that Chambers already told us were contained within. That the first act was mundane, and that it’s significance doesn’t become apparent until the second act. What playwright would want to do that?

I think my difficulty with the book is that, as a reader of Chambers, I already had my own expectations, and just as I felt Lefebre had been wrong to base his attempt at writing the play upon The Repairer of Reputations, I didn’t feel that imbuing the play with a Shakespearian structure gave it the right atmosphere. And therein lay my problem: the reader’s expectations set the bar too high. At the very idea of this book I was looking for something that would feel like it had been written by a contemporary of Victor Hugo or Edgar Allen Poe or Guy de Maupassant, but that would somehow include skewed Jungian archetypes, Nietzchean madness, post-Gothic imagery and a proto-Brechtian sense of verfremdungseffekt (of being distanced from reality). All that and vague hints of mythos-inspired cosmic alienness to boot. There were certainly flashes of these (we also have the avant garde element that connects the play – through the character of Pere Ubu – to King Turd (Ubi Roi), an equally surreal play by Alfred Jarry that was released at almost the same time as the original anthology); but ultimately my satisfaction came from witnessing the attempt (and its detail) rather than from embracing the content.

20150317-142804.jpgAnother factor is Chambers himself: an average writer who stumbled upon a concept so enduring that even his own prose failed to capture it. Anyone who follows him is held back by those limitations and is swimming against the tide.

That said, Le Roi en Jaune is cool. As cool as a bow tie. I’m jealous of Simon’s achievement, and the end result is as unique a literary curiosity as the book upon which it is based.

buy now at amazon

UPDATE: It is perhaps remiss of me not to have mentioned the cleverness of the James Blish version in More Light (1970), which I seem to recall implying the descent of man from a black-skinned race which, in the nineteenth century would certain have driven men mad, but not so much nowadays (Perhaps he was inspired by the purported origins of the Nation of Islam?).

The Pendragon Protocol



The Pendragon Protocol by Philip Purser-Hallard (Book One of The Devices Trilogy) Snowbooks July 2014
416pp £7.99

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

[First up, apologies to the author, Philip Purser-Hallard. This review, submitted in good faith to a another site that shall not be mentioned, was not used and left to languish against my wishes. I now publish this review in advance of the release of the second book in the trilogy, The Locksley Exploit (available for kindle now), which I hope to review shortly.]

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have long been a staple of adventure stories, and with the emergence of urban fantasy as a genre there’s been no let up. Most recently I’ve come across Maurice Broadus’ Knights of Breton Court trilogy from Angry Robot (Modern knights reimagined on the streets of Indianapolis) and Alan Fenton’s Return of Arthur cycle (a modern retelling of the Arthur myth) from the Dovecote press.

Thankfully, Purser-Hallard doesn’t let the apple fall too far from the tree.

Despite being set in the modern day, The Pendragon Protocol is a tale of the Kingdom of Logres (England to you and me), and feels more like a story set in the real world ties than many other urban fantasies whose magic lies within the dark shadows of gritty street corners. It also constrains itself to London for the most part – resisting the temptation to seek out mythic locales that might be hidden in some unchanged medieval landscape.

What matters is that the Knights of the Round Table never really went away, they simply became the Circle, a not-quite hidden service that operates alongside the modern police force, turning up and following their own very special set of procedures designed to manage and control the activities of those mythic archetypes first encountered in the Arthurian period. For me, the recognisable city of London and the comforting backdrop of the modern police procedural provide the perfect entry point for this world, setting it apart from other modern Arthuriana and standing it up alongside the more popular (and successful) urban fantasy series’ – particularly those of other former Doctor Who novelists like Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Cornell.

Perhaps the cutting-of-teeth on the literary adventures of a televisual Time Lord creates an inherent advantage for those integrating the fantastic and the mundane, but the Devices world is as well built as that of Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, and – despite needing to acclimatise to the narrative style in the first few pages of the book – it is just as easy a read.

The story feels like a cross between urban myth and modern superhero fantasy, with a solid undercurrent that dips into the tropes of religion and folklore alike, exploring the themes and ideas that have shaped British society over the centuries.

On the one hand, there is a sense of logic to the evolution of the Circle and to the technology that it wields, reminding me a little of how the Avengers can integrate the adventures of a high-tech man in an iron suit alongside a Norse god armed with a mystic hammer. My suspension of disbelief was maintained throughout the book, which maintained its pace beyond the central watershed of the plot.
On the other hand, hidden beneath a safely linear narrative in the pursuit of the Green Knight, is the journey taken by Jory Taylor/Sir Gawain, whose methodical approach overturns and examines the moral, societal and political aspects of the Arthurian ideal with enough depth to satisfy the deeper, more intellectual reader, but in a straightforward enough manner to satisfy the action-chaser that doesn’t want to pause to consider its implications too much. It’s a hard balance to strike, but Purser-Hallar achieves it well, and left this reader both satisfied and wanting more.

If I am disappointed by anything it is not the prose, but rather the packaging – the title (both of the book and the series) and the cover fail to make this book stand out. Had I not already been a reader of Purser-Hallard’s work, I doubt I would have paid much attention on a crowded bookshelf. Yes, it name-checks the Arthurian cycle, but ‘The Devices Trilogy’ sounds decidedly steampunk, but the cover fails to shine, meaning that word of mouth is what will make the difference here. For me such word of mouth is very much deserved – The Pendragon Protocol is solid, original and imaginative, with good character construction and development which doesn’t just make me keen to see how the series continues, but to want to see it re-imagined in comics and on the big screen.

buy now at amazon

Seven Wonders


Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher

Angry Robot Books   September 2012   £7.99   411pp

Reviewed by Adrian Middleton

In the wake of his debut novel, Empire State, Adam Christopher steps sideways from the noir city to the shining superhero city of San Ventura to bring us a trip into the four colour world of the Seven Wonders, the last great superhero team, protecting the world and, in particular, the West Coast of America, from the last supervillain team up, The black-clad Cowl and his girl-wonder sidekick, Blackbird.

The pulp style of the novel gets the story off to a cracking start, with a touch that made me believe the book started life as a comic script rather than a novel. Each paragraph feels as if it’s describing an individual comic-book panel which, while giving the feel of authenticity to the piece, made me feel bereft of the depth that the prose of a novel, rather than a graphic novel, can bring.

More influenced by the superhero universes of DC and Wildstorm comics – particularly Batman, Superman and The Authority – Christopher’s world is filled with shades of grey, enthusiastically raising questions about the morality of its heroes and villains, making the reader question who are the real heroes and villains throughout the story.

The story follows the lives of the Cowl, San Ventura’s greatest billionnaire-supervillain, as his powers are mysteriously on the wane, the city’s newest hero, Tony Prosdocimi, and Blackbird, whose own motivations drive the story forward at a speed more like that of a cancelled soap opera than a speeding bullet.

Ultimately is the soap element – the relationships between the characters and their interactions with the San Ventura police and the Seven Wonders themselves – which drives the story forward. Unfortunately, the promised depth isn’t forthcoming, and the story dwells more on set-pieces like the protagonist’s fight to come to terms first with the emergence of his superman-like powers (clearly inspired by Larry Niven’s seminal essay ‘Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex’) and on the TV-style police procedural investigation by Sam Millar and Joe Milano, cops from a SuperCrime department responsible for dealing with the city’s super-powered community on zero budget. These are nice vignettes, but they don’t make up for weak characters who go through the motions with tenuous motives.

The book has some great moments, but they pass quickly, stopping short of what could have been comic-book gold had they been explored in the four-colour medium. Take an early scene where the Cowl touches upon the question: who is acting in the best interests of the city? Aloof heroes with no connection to the people, or career criminals who know every corner of the neighbourhoods they grew up in, protecting their territory while perpetrating crimes in other parts of the city. Unfortunately, when moments like this appear, they fade quickly and are not returned to, making potentially great thematic story elements into little more than passing thoughts.

Ultimately this brings me to the conclusion that as pulp prose, Seven Wonders should have been a comic book, and not a novel. Yes, it is light, action paced and entertaining, with lots of twists and turns as the story progresses, but ultimately without pictures to add depth to some fairly weak characterization, the book leaves me just a little too under-whelmed.

buy now at amazon

“Enter freely, and of your own will…”

“…and leave behind a little of the happiness that you bring.”

Lovely sentiment.

Wasted on the lips of Count Dracula though.

My name is not Metabaronic, but Adrian Middleton, and this, for better or for worse, is my blog.

Continue reading “Enter freely, and of your own will…”