Knight Life

One Knight Only, by Peter David

oneknightonlyWhat’s Bob?  Our Bob?
Right.  Bob Kellerman.  Your head speechwriter.
What about him?  Is he all right?
Not at the moment, no.  Did you tell him that you were going to toss the text of the State of the Union address and just ‘wing it’?
I might have done.
That would be the speech he’s been working on twenty-four/seven for the past month?
That’s as may be, but why?  I was just joking.  He must have known that.
Sir, you know Bob.  He takes everything literally.  He’s been lying on the couch in his office for the last hour with an ice pack, moaning that his life is pointless.
-President Arthur Penn and Chief of Staff Ron Cordoba

A little over a year ago (as of this writing), I put up a review of Peter David’s book, Knight Life.  At the time, I mentioned that I was certainly hoping that a sequel would happen (as was rumored).

It happened.

One Knight Only picks up quite some time after the events in Knight Life.  For starters, Gwen D. Queen is now Gwen Penn, Arthur’s wife (and in case you missed Knight Life, understand that Arthur Penn was once Arthur Pendragon, King of the Britons).  Arthur himself is now the President of the United States, thanks in part to very good publicity after a terrible event in New York City when he was mayor.  Merlin, who had always been by Arthur in the past, is now a small statue in a corner of the Rose Garden after coming up second-best in an altercation that is explained in more detail as the book continues.

As the story opens, Arthur is getting ready to make his State of the Union speech; part of it involves announcing a treaty with the country of Trans-Sabal, the last country that had been willing to give sanctuary to the terrorist behind the events in NYC (a man named Arnim Sandoval)-as well as making a few off-the-cuff comments.  However, tragedy strikes as Gwen is struck down by an assassin, leaving Arthur to make some hard choices as to what to do next.  In the meantime, the knight Percival is working for his king as a presidential aide who goes where he feels he’s needed-and while he’s in South America, he comes upon a man named Joshua, who’s older than he looks (and he’s not young anymore); not the Joshua you may be thinking of, but someone who has been touched by the Holy Grail.  Percival finds himself wishing to see it again-and perhaps in finding it again, understand what fate may await him in the future.

And in a way, what Percival finds leads in to a significant portion of this book:  something that will bring his king to another who thinks of himself as a High King-and one whose age makes Arthur look like a tot.

Where to start?  Well, there’s a number of good things about this book.  I loved the loophole in the U. S. Constitution that Arthur used to justify a Presidential run to himself and a couple of select others (still shaky, obviously, but he did have some help from Merlin).  I didn’t see the true identity of the High King coming, and that’s always a pleasant surprise (and I won’t ruin it here).  And the general attitudes of Arthur have carried over from the first book, a blend of righteousness and a hint of arrogance; well, he is a king, after all, and still having a little trouble with the idea of representative government.  But he’s still trying to do the right thing.  I also really enjoyed the role of the characters who are not a version of the Arthurian mythos, but are just everyday folks doing their jobs and being friends-from Ron Cordoba, the White House Chief of Staff who knows who Arthur is, to Nellie Porter, who attends to Gwen, and is a pretty sharp cookie.  And I can’t neglect Miss Basil, who isn’t quite who-or what-she seems; and she is most definitely not nice.

I expect that some folks might have a little trouble with the NYC event.  While it isn’t exactly 9/11 (and there’s no evidence that this has occurred in the setting of this book), it’s close enough in general atmosphere that some folks might find it very uncomfortable.  Plus, the general attitude of Arnim Sandoval is awfully close to what we see a lot of in the news of late.  Keep in mind, though, that Peter David’s never shied away from “uncomfortable” in writing his books, not only in these books but in his Star Trek books and his Sir Apropos books.  Also keep in mind that he’s also got a very interesting sense of poetic justice in his books.

One Knight Only doesn’t have the same feel as Knight Life, mostly because the first book had been about Arthur finding his place in the present day, and this one is about Arthur actually doing something in the present day.  He’s more in a position to change the world and make it a better place (in his point of view, of course), and one cannot doubt that he’s highly motivated to save his wife and take a personal sort of vengeance upon the author of his troubles.  While it’s not exactly what I’d want to see in a President in real life, it makes for entertaining fiction.  And there’s a couple of interesting consequences that could leave the door open to a third book if he wants to write it.  I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

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Knight Life, by Peter David

knightlifeMerlin, by all the gods that’s it!  I shall become president of the Soviet Union of America.
-Arthur Pendragon, who needs a little more study time

The story of King Arthur and the Round Table is pretty much ingrained into the public consciousness.  Certainly it’s a story with many of the classic fantasy elements-a king trying to forge a kingdom where (to borrow a phrase) might is used for right, but a wife’s love for the king’s best friend signals the end of his dream.  Okay, well, that was my interpretation, in a nutshell.  Various scholars have various opinions, and I’m not here to debate them.

What I am here for is to review a rather interesting book.  Knight Life isn’t exactly what one would call unusual; many authors today have mined the Arthur legend, set in just about every conceivable time frame.  What make this book unique is the strategy taken.  But I’m skipping ahead.  Let me take it from the beginning.

The book opens up with Morgan Le Fay, in the modern day.  Time has, shall we say, not been kind to her.  Her one joy in life has been to occasionally look in upon the imprisoned wizard, Merlin (through the magic of her television set).  In despair, she is all ready to take her own life…except she notices that the prison is empty.  Suddenly, Morgan has a reason to live!  (Not exactly a noble reason, but what can you expect?)

Shortly after, a fellow arrives in New York City, wearing a full suit of armor…yes, it’s the King…and while he doesn’t have the same level of culture shock one might expect, he is still somewhat bewildered by it all.  But with the aid of Merlin, he decides to once again try to change the world.  However, Britain isn’t quite what it was in his time, and he’s not quite ready for national leadership…so he’ll start small-he runs for mayor of NYC.

In the process, other faces from the past pop up; a young woman who looks awfully familiar named Gwen D. Queen, and Moe Dreskin-a fellow who knows Arthur quite well indeed…and I had to feel a little sorry for him given the pretty bad position he’s put in…!  Even more dangerous, Arthur has to deal with the press, his political opponents, and the cynical nature of New Yorkers.

This was an interesting book, as I’ve already noted. Knight Life was written by Peter David some time ago, so this is almost a reprint; but the author has redone things in this book to “fix” it.  Not having ever seen the original version (in fact, I’d never even known he’d written one!), I have no idea what might have changed.  I never felt that I was reading dated material, though (unless you count some of Arthur’s political views).

Knight Life is not an action packed book; while it has a couple of scenes, those are not the strengths of this book.  It’s all about watching Arthur try to run for political office in a city that wouldn’t believe the truth about him if someone told them; it’s about Arthur trying to pursue the woman who seems ready to repeat history with him; it’s about the diabolical plans of Morgan Le Fay, hoping to put a final finish to her most hated enemies.  And it’s about a man from the past looking at present day society and comparing their attitudes towards life with his…and the differences aren’t as clear cut as one might think.

The introduction to the book hints that David is preparing another novel, which will be a sequel to this one.  I sincerely hope it happens, because I found Knight Life to be an enjoyable read; it was an interesting take on King Arthur-one that doesn’t rely upon the might of the sword, but on the ability to make people believe in him.  And that’s something that any politician should envy.

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