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King And Emperor by Harry Harrison (and John Holm)

Our King? Well, I didn't vote for you!
Perhaps I'm letting all the mystical rubbish get to me. Perhaps I am cynically overlooking the fantastical element of this historical fantasy in favour of a brutal and realism-driven interpretation. Perhaps I'm an arse.

These propositions, and more still, are true no doubt. Unfortunately, now that King Shef has decided to launch an attack on the Holy See via the Caliphate of Cordoba with their advanced sciences and repressive treatment of lady folk, and has come face to face with the devastating reality of Greek fire in the Mediterranean sea, and launched the Loki Appreciation Denomination of The Way of Asgard, much to the chagrin of the other priests of The Way, AND Holy Roman Emperor Bruno I has gone in search of The Holy Grail (which it turns out isn't the cup from which Jesus drank at the Last Supper but is instead a simple ladder which was used by those who removed Jesus' body from the cross and to carry his body to his tomb, cunningly rendered logical by some word-trickery which also manages to invoke a connection to Shef's mythological 'father', the Norse God Rig whose ladder symbol Shef wears), I began to fear for my rational self. It's all well and good to tinker with history to tell a good story, but I lost it a little with the cramming in of so many frankly crackpot historical mysteries and mystical themes into one rags-to-riches tale. 

Not to say that it's boring - far from it. It's action packed, as much so as the other two novels in the trilogy, and as exquisitely plotted as ever. There's the invention of manned flight (albeit unpowered) a good few centuries early, the death of child soldiers, ambushes and siege-engine engagements, and even good old Shef gets a bit of crucifixion to nail some sense into him, as befits his nature as both saviour and effigy of the All-Father, Odin, who himself hung upside down from a tree and so on.

It's just that all together, I lost the will to believe, combined with the feeling that it reminded me of Monty Python's The Life Of Brian and ....The Holy Grail, after which I did read with a half-grin on my face. It's hard to believe when you're laughing inside and out.

I would recommend a read if you're in the market for a bit of fantasy, and where there is history it is remarkably well researched, thanks no doubt to his silent partner in this venture. Do give it a shot, especially if you can find a cheap copy!

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