Sunday, June 16, 2002

Review: "Knight Life" by Peter David

Ever wonder how King Arthur would have done in the Connecticut Yankee's world? Peter David ponders that question in his latest novel "Knight Life" (Ace). The book, originally released 15 years ago in paperback, has been updated and expanded by almost one-third for its hardcover release this month.

After centuries spent in an isolated cave, Arthur and Merlin - now a young boy due to his living backwards in time - emerge in modern-day New York. Seeing the problems in todays society, Arthur decides that the world needs him, and he'll start as mayor of New York.

But Arthur and Merlin aren't the only ones who have survived Camelot. Arthur's half-sister Morgan Le Fay has been watching for their return, and she has a surprise of her own. Their son Mordred isn't dead either, in fact he's a campaign manager for one of Arthur's chief rivals in the election.

Things are going well for the "Once and Future King" when he meets Gwen DeVere Queen, the reincarnated soul of his beloved Guinevere, of course. Despite Merlin's warnings that he's doomed to repeat history, he makes her part of his campaign.

Arthur's simple platform - "Hi, I'm Arthur Penn, and I want to be the next mayor of New York" - and his radical, common-sense views on political issues quickly earn him a following among jaded voters. But Morgan's plotting and a classic betrayal may lay his political career low.

"Knight Life" is a fun spin on the Mark Twain classic. Rather than send a modern-day person to King Arthur's court, David brings Arthur's court to us. The result is a mix of classic Arthurian fiction and a satiric commentary about the nature of today's politics.

The story is rife with intrigue, mirroring the Arthurian legends on several key points. At the same time, it pokes fun at double-talking politicians. A perfect example is the mayoral debate in the book. When Arthur is given his first chance at a rebuttal, he sputters, "but they didn't answer the question." It's something all of us have said to the TV screen after watching a politician evade an issue.

The entire tale is subtly humorous, but there are a few true laugh out loud moments as well. For example, Arthur's initial meeting with Gwen - in full plate armor - leads her to classify him as a weirdo. That meeting also sends him to an upscale clothiers shop - still in full armor - which causes quite a stir among the workers.

In "Knight Life," David manages to strike a balance that can be tough for humor writers. He's loaded the story with laughs, but doesn't take the easy way out and turn it into a slapstick tale. Instead, he tells an engaging story and manages to slip in a few commentaries on the real world as well. If you didn't catch "Knight Life" the first time around, there's no time like the present.

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