Sunday, September 21, 2003

Review: "One Knight Only" by Peter David

The return of King Arthur takes a dark turn in Peter David's latest novel "One Knight Only" ($23.95, Ace).

In his last Arthurian novel "Knight Life," David introduced us to Arthur Penn, the man once known as King Arthur, returned to our world in a time of need. In that book, Arthur was a plainspoken man who was steered into politics by his adviser Merlin and became mayor of New York.

Now, Arthur Penn is the president of the United States. But today's world isn't Camelot, and his presidency is a far cry from a happy one. Merlin has been taken from him, and his most loyal knight Percival has been given a position that requires him to be away from Arthur. (He is, after all, a questing knight at heart.)

A terrorist named Arnim Sandoval strikes from hiding in the country of Trans-Sabal. Two previous presidents have failed to capture or kill Sandoval, but Arthur vows to continue the fight despite the urgings of his advisers. But when Sandoval strikes close to home with an assassination attempt that puts his beloved Queen Gwen in danger, things change. Now, it gets personal.

I'm not really sure what to think of David's latest novel. "Knight Life" was a light-hearted book that poked fun at today's politics. "One Knight Only" has a much darker and more somber tone. While there are still a few laughs in the book, much of the humor is drained by the ominous events that may strike too close to home for some people.

"One Knight Only" is the second fantasy/science fiction novel I've read recently that used the events of Sept. 11 (or a thinly veiled version of them) as a central focus, and I'm not really sure how I feel about that. On one hand, fantasy has always been a bit of an escape to another world; on the other, both of the books were good ones.

Much as in "Knight Life," David uses his fictional tale as a vehicle to discuss current issues without beating his readers over the head with them. He offers some interesting takes on the current political situation, but manages to walk the line and never cross over into telling his readers what they should think.

The character of Arthur is engaging, though admittedly some of the other characters are a little more like window dressing. The book also has the usual cast of historic and mythological walk-ons, including an appearance by Gilgamesh. (Yes, that Gilgamesh.) Those add great fun to the story.

Despite the turn in tone between this book and the last, it's still a good read. In these two books, David has offered up one of the most intriguing and interesting takes on the Arthurian legends yet.

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