Skip to main content

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!

Comments

How's about that then?

The Headmaster's Wife by T. C. Greene

I bought this on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I respect if not always agree with, and also as it was an Amazon daily deal I felt that 99p or whatever it cost was not too much to risk. I have become a little narrow in the field of what I choose to read and welcomed the digression offered. Subsequently, I feel a little hoodwinked. 
T.C. Greene’s previous book, Mirror Lake is one of those books that, as a former bookseller, I knew was there, would expect it to be propping up the centre of a table of multi-buy contemporary fiction, but had absolutely no desire to read whatsoever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I disagree, given the time and effort spent by designers and publishers to ensure that any given book looks as similar as possible to the best-seller in any given genre. Mirror Lake enjoyed my ignorant prejudice for a good many months for this very reason. Of course, until I’d bought The Headmaster’s Wife I had no idea that the two Greenes were o…

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe…

A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue. I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain. Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you g…