In early twentieth first century Britain, the Knights of the Round Table are alive and well. Kind of. They exist as ‘devices’, a thought pattern similar to a Jungian archetype, semi autonomous memes that get into people’s heads and lead them to take on the characteristics of that device. So when our lead character, Jory Taylor, bears the device of Sir Gawain, it means he becomes more like Gawain (eg an unfortunate penchant for decapitation), but also that his life also becomes more like Gawain’s narrative in the original myth. Great if you’re a dashing good guy, but not so good if you find yourself bearing the device of Mordred or Morgan le Fay. Taylor, like the other Knights, works for the Circle, a secretive government organisation modelled after the Round Table, MI6 with broadswords if you will.
The Circle is very much on the side of the State and government authority, but of course the Round Table is not the only myth sewn into British culture, and during the course of his work Jory encounters another, equally strong, manifestation of our national id. I’m not going to tell you who it is, because the revelation was a moment of pure delight for me, and it’d be a shame to spoil that for you (although the title of the second book does give it away somewhat). The rest of the first book, and the second volume, deal with the conflict between the two schools, before the third opens up to consider what devices other countries might have given rise to, and what happens when they come to Britain. There’s also the problem of where exactly the most famous device of all is. The device of Arthur, the High King, has been missing for centuries, and its re-emergence is a key part of the story.
There’s an old Oysterband sleeve quote that goes something like “to love this land and its people while hating how it’s ruled and a lot of what it stands for is a contradiction many people will find strange”. It’s this contradiction that is at the heart of the Devices trilogy, the struggle between authoritarian rule and anarchist do as you please. It’s very political, not in a partisan way, but in exploring what it means to be British, what Britain could and should represent. That may sound rather po-faced, but Purser-Hallard writes with warmth and wit, and he keeps the pages turning. There are weighty questions of national identity, personal responsibility, and the nature of stories below the text, but there are also swordfights, explosions and secret fortresses disguised as Civil Service offices. The idea of a modern day King Arthur and [REDACTED] sparring in the shopping centres and coffee shops of modern Britain could easily have fallen prey to cliche and silliness, but the books manage to sidestep that and offer a thought provoking and very entertaining read.
The first book is called The Pendragon Protocol, and it comes highly recommended to anyone who enjoys contemporary fantasy (with the caveat that the cover is appalling, and makes it look like Dan Brown writing for neo-Nazis, which, on so many levels, it is just not).
Length of Read:Medium
Might appeal to people who enjoyed…
folklore, myth, history, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers Of London books, Roger Lancelyn Green, Rosemary Sutcliff, Monty Python And The Holy Grail, Le Morte D’Arthur, Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem pub, Doctor Who
One thing you’ve learned
always look at who’s telling the tale