Trojans

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

Advertisements

The Locksley Exploit

 The Locksley Exploit

 

fourstars

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 Pendragon Protocol

pendragon-protocol-cover-design

fourstars

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