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04 May 2016 @ 07:33 pm
The Pendragon Protocol  
In the name of full disclosure I should point out that, to the extent that I have ill-gotten gains from the writing of fiction, these have come via the editorial largesse of Philip Purser-Hallard writer of The Pendragon Protocol.

The Pendragon Protocol is the first part of the Devices Trilogy. To the extent that the reader understands devices by the end of the book (and I'm prepared to believe this may only be a partial understanding), they are a manifestation of popular myth which can attach themselves to individuals, imbuing them both with the powers of the device - for instance, Jory, the protagonist of The Pendragon Protocol who has adopted the device of Sir Gawain, finds his strength waxes and wanes with the sun - and with an unfortunate tendency to relive the stories myth has associated with the device - the bearer of the Sir Lancelot device can be counted upon to fall in love with the most disastrous person available.

The story starts out with many of the trappings of a standard Urban Fantasy novel in which the modern incarnations of the Knights of the Round Table hunt down and bring to justice the bearers of the devices which were opposed to King Arthur - these being a varied collection of serial killers and terrorists. However gradually it becomes clear that the devices are considerably more complex and slippery than the knights envisage and their moral high ground becomes less clear when arrayed against the forces of Robin Hood. At this point the story drops the trappings of a crime novel and becomes something rather more its own: a tale of shifting loyalties, the rule of law versus vigilantism, aristocracy versus peasantry, and the extent to which power corrupts and how your understanding of and reaction to that corruption can depend both upon your mythic viewpoint and that of those who view you.

While this makes it stand out among most urban fantasy novels, I found, when reading it, that I was strangely torn between thinking it very original and finding it deeply familiar. In the telling of the story the characters re-enact many famous legends from Gawain and the Green Knight, the defeat of Hengist and Horsa, through to the tale of the Silver Arrow (arguably the most famous of the Robin Hood legends). In fact, by the end of the story, so many of the really iconic Arthurian and Robin Hood legends had been replayed that I was somewhat left wondering what was left for the rest of the trilogy. At any rate, reading The Pendragon Protocol, if you are familiar with the mythology, is an odd mixture of wondering what will happen next and knowing exactly what is going to happen next. I have no idea whatsoever how this would read to someone unfamiliar with the mythology, but I think half the point of the book is that the mythology is pervasive in UK culture.

Arthurians on my flist, should be warned that ultimately it is not terribly sympathetic to the round table, at least in its modern incarnation, though given Morgan le Fey is playing a very central role in Jory's perception of events I'm prepared to believe this also may change in later parts. If I were guessing, major themes to be played out will be the benefits and pitfalls of small-scale individualistic heroism (as typified by the Merry Men) versus institutionalised heroism (as typified by the round table) and while this volume ends with the Merry Men looking to be the better people (and the Round Table under the leadership of a Sir Kay who the Merries identify with King John), later volumes may redress this balance.

The story is explicitly narrated by Alan-a-dale (though he also moonlights as Taliesin). This means we are given to understand from the outset that the retelling is both biased and based on partial information. It must be said I wasn't fond of this device. Partly because I found Alan's voice somewhat irritating, but also because it had a tendency to infodump. We are told a lot about, for instance, Jory's relationship with his Christian faith, but given relatively little opportunity to observe that relationship. I can see that in a book already grappling with a number of other large themes and ideas, there may have felt like there was little room to explore these aspects of the characters which were subsidiary to the main plot but still important to an understanding of the people but the overall effect was, I felt, a little intrusive and not entirely elegant.

I would definitely recommend this to people interested in Arthurian Legend, and in how Arthurian retellings can be integrated into the modern genre of urban fantasy. I find it harder to judge how it might work for people with less of an interest in the core myths.

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/191316.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on May 5th, 2016 06:49 pm (UTC)
I am enjoying your book reviews; thank you.
louisedennis: bookslouisedennis on May 6th, 2016 09:55 am (UTC)
I've read several good ones recently, which always helps!! *g*

I forgot to mention above that the proof-reading here is not all it might be. I don't know if you were thinking of checking it out, but if grammar errors tend to throw you out of books then you might want to give it a miss.
wellinghallwellinghall on May 10th, 2016 07:19 pm (UTC)
I am thinking of checking it out; I'm not an Arthurian, but I am married to one ;-) I do tend to notice poor proof-reading, though :-(