Released: August 2014
I’m a bit of an Arthurian geek. Not so much the popular Mallory ideal but the numerous versions that have followed it seeking to unpick the myths Mallory established. So I jumped at the chance to read this latest offering from Marie Phillips who last delighted people with her novel God’s Behaving Badly.
Sir Humphrey du Val has been confined to Camelot for the last fifteen years and he is bored, bored, bored. He needs rescuing and that rescue arrives in the form of Damsel in Distress Elaine, whose fiancée has been abducted. Sir Humphrey has been banned from questing, hence his confinement to Camelot, but as nobody else is around to help Elaine he feels it is his knightly duty to offer assistance to her.
In the bordering kingdom of Puddock the new Queen Martha is so distraught at having to marry the repellent stranger Edwin, from another bordering kingdom of Tuft, she runs away disguising herself as a man. On her travels she bumps into the locum Lady of the Lake, standing in for Nimue who has gone off to have adventures of her own. The Lady gives her an enchanted sword, Leila, that seems to have a mind of its own, and informs Martha that her brother, Jasper, the true heir to Puddock’s throne is not dead at all. Believing Jasper to be imprisoned by Edwin’s brother in Tuft, Martha sets off in search of him and on the way meets up with Sir Humphrey and Elaine.
Martha is not the only character with something to hide; they all have secrets to hide from each other. They are all well rounded with a great spirit of adventure and although they might not be as glamorous as Mallory would have his readers believe, they are a lot more entertaining. The kings and their advisors are portrayed as inept, cruel and brash bores, which they probably were, whilst the other characters, particularly the main ones, are more engaging.
Although the story has a well-planned structure it manages not to feel overly contrived, allowing the coincidences and chance meetings to feel natural rather than forced. At one point I found the plot wore a little thin as Humphrey and Elaine plodded back and forth looking for a knight in black armour, but Elaine seems aware of this and does her best to get the quest back on track. Happily the pace does pick up swiftly once they meet up with Martha.
The playful way in which the story was written in such modern accessible language reminded me of Brain Helgeland’s film A Knight’s Tale. Overall this was an engaging and enjoyable read with plenty of laughter, lots of twists and turns, and a happy and unpredictable ending. A great holiday read, especially if you like a farcical take on Camelot. If you take your Knights in White Armour seriously…well, maybe it’s time you looked at them from a fresh perspective. It’s a lot of fun.