The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips
|The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This is no Spamalot pastiche, but a rollicking adventure with humour that ranges from subtle to Pratchettly clever. Ignore the book blurb about Jane Austen and Monty Python; this is pure Marie Phillips.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: July 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
Sir Humphrey has been demoted from King Arthur's Round Table to the Table of Lesser Valued Knights. The only way to get his comfier seat back is to redeem himself via a quest. Therefore when damsel Elaine seeks help to find her kidnapped fiancé, Humphrey and his ward, the teenage giant Conrad, eagerly set forth. Meanwhile in the kingdom of Tuft, new Queen Martha has run away after a disastrous wedding to… a… well… disastrous Prince Edwin. She may not realise it yet, but she too will have a job for Humphrey!
British writer Marie Phillips may not be a household name but it's not going to be long as her talent is definitely in the public eye. For instance Marie co-wrote the much lauded Radio 4 drama series Horses of Letters, a dramatisation of letters supposedly between Wellington's horse and the steed of Napoleon. Her first novel Gods Behaving Badly (2007) has been translated into 15 languages and now, this her second, was shortlisted for the 2015 Bailey's Prize. Don't assume that this is high falluting, worthily inaccessible prize fodder though; it's much too much fun for that!
If I have a gripe it's that the book blurb is a little misleading. There are mentions of Monty Python and Jane Austen deciding to write like Terry Pratchett but it's not really like any of them. Marie has a humorous style of her own. Out of them all she does tilt towards Pratchetesque cleverness but there are no abstract concepts like walking luggage, Jane Austen is only pertinent in that this novel contains women and there's not a Spamalot refugee to be seen. (Although there is a clever nod towards Dumas.)
Marie uses her humour like Sir Humphrey uses his weaponry. Sometimes we smile as she jousts with us and, at others, she cuts and slices insightfully like the sharpest sword, making us laugh before we begin to realise that we are actually bearing witness to a moment of human insight. Sometimes the humour's just there to entertain, like the coffee-spatteringly funny birds-and-bees education Martha endures resulting in a running gag that just goes on giving. (Even now I can't hear anyone saying 'Now turn the page' without choking with suppressed memory giggles.)
It's not all laughs though. In Elaine, Martha, the boisterous 15 year old Conrad and the poignantly desperate to do right Humphrey, we have a fully rounded quartet who each feel real and huggable. Edwin may seem to be a very pantomime villain at times but he still seems to fit in and gives us more reason to plump for our heroes. In fact the suspense that builds as we watch Martha try to get some distance between herself and the big toothed bigot is tangible.
Marie also extrapolates what we've taken for granted in the Arthurian myth, showing us the practical drawbacks. For instance the knights' code states that damsels in distress must always be assisted. That's a given but what we may not have thought about is how repeatedly needing to rescue distressed damsels can put time onto an otherwise simple journey.
If I were a teenager I'd be reciting chunks of this novel. As a middle aged woman, I will just continue to guffaw inappropriately as I remember these chunks. Be it the naming of the sword or the who-pays-who conversation this is a book full of gold, just not the gold to read with something in your mouth if you value your décor!
(Thank you to the good folk at Vintage for providing us with a copy for review.)
Further Reading: If you would like to read more about the Arthurian legend, then The Classic Guide to King Arthur (Classic Guides) by Dr Keith Souter is a good place to start. If, on the other hand, you're here because you like your fantasy with added smirk, we also heartily recommend The Clown Service by Guy Adams.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.