Review – Green Knight’s Squire

swan-knight-son-640x1024The Green Knight’s Squire is a YA Urban-slash-High-slash-Christian Fantasy trilogy by John C. Wright. The three books are: Swan Knight’s Son, Feast of the Elfs, and Swan Knight’s Sword. The trilogy is the first part of a 12-book series, Moth & Cobweb, of which 6 books have been published. (Review of Dark Avenger’s Sidekick to follow)

Short review: It’s quite good. Very Catholic, somewhat long-winded, but quite good. I can’t help shake the feeling that JCW’s writing career would do way better if he met an editor who could bloody well make him stop monologuing. Nevertheless, when he gets in gear and writes, he writes well, and I don’t think there is a single other author today who uses language as well as he does. Some of work is downright Vancian: mood, setting, and descriptions are clear, vivid, picturesque. The other part of the
series is pure homage to G. K. Chesterton…but we’ll get into that in a minute.

Plot: Swan Knight’s Son is about a modern-day boy’s journey to becoming a knight. The fact that his mother is Ygraine of the Riddles, a Swan May, his dog talks and is an elf spy, and that there is a magic door in their house that follows them across country and opens to a moonlit room with his father’s armor, makes this a little easier for him than it would be for a strictly normal modern-day boy. On the other hand, he does end up in jail….

Feast of the Elfs
follows Gil as he is recruited into The Last Crusade by the man in the dark room from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday, swears allegiance to King Arthur, attends the titular Feast, meets The Green Knight–yes, the same one as in the Arthurian saga, what a coincidence–and finagles actual weapons training out of the elf king’s champion. This being part two of a trilogy, it ends on a down note as Gil loses his father’s sword–one of the Thirteen Treasures of Lyonesse–and has to be rescued by his mermaid girlfriend.

In Swan Knight’s Sword, Gil (spoiler!) gets his father’s sword back, returns to the court of the elves, declares himself openly as the Swan Knight’s son, restores his mother’s honor, gains the respect of knights and kings, everything goes just fine and all wrongs are righted and his mom meets his girlfriend and is okay with it (whew!)…ready to live happily ever after and have more adventures when the time comes.

– Wright’s command of language is, of course, worth full marks. I’ve already mentioned the associated downside of this, that he lets his tendency to floridness get away with him, but the upside is lavish descriptions, witty dialogue, and outlandish but utterly logical scenarios.
– Building off the previous sentence, one real strength of these books and Wright’s stuff in particular is his ability to mix and match elements of other works, literature, classic movies, classical mythology, chivalric romances, etc…and make them work. For instance: Batman (well, actually, The Shadow) plus Norse Mythology? But of course: it’s a homage to the disguises of Odin, who walked anonymously abroad in a broad hat and muffling cloak, clouding the minds of men that they did not see what was before their very eyes. Part two of the Moth & Cobweb series does this even better by introducing Tomorrow “Tom Swift” Moth, the gadget and science hero. (Sidenote: Tom Swift was one of the very young Rider’s first SF heroes. I was incredibly chuffed to find someone else had read and remembered those books.)
– Besides being able to make literary themes match together and work, Wright is also able to pull off what would otherwise be the most ridiculous juxtapositions ever. In book 1, Gil wants to train as a knight, but can only find a bear…a talking bear, naturally…who can teach him to fight. The training regimen? Daily practice in bear crawls, bear hugs, roaring, and playing dead….all of which Gil later uses when fighting. Bravo. I loved it.
– ….and some of the dialogue is brief, snappy, and witty. SOME of it.
– Ruff–Sgeolan son of Iolan–spy of the elfs, is one of the best dogs and worst spies ever. In fact, all of the talking animals were well-done, including the spider who gets ticked at Gil for letting her dinner out of the web.
– “We thought this was a Kwanzaa tree!” Politically-correct fairies are the best fairies.

Cons: Everybody talks too much, talks like a professor of English Literature who has been mainlining Arthurian literature and is extremely anxious to tell you all about it; and if you aren’t Catholic, well, prepare to let your eyes glaze over at points. I’m not really exaggerating on the first point. In Feast of the Elfs, it takes all of nine pages before a character starts talking at very extended length (he starts on page eight. By page nine it was probably a monologue. By page fourteen there was no doubt and I started skimming).
And as far as the second…well, what else can you call the scene where Gil, rightfully skeptical about a “law enforcement” job that requires no skills, ID, training, or prior experience, asks what it is. The Man in the Dark Room (AKA, Mr. Sunday from Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday…AKA, God) replies: “Martyrdom.”
….Yeah. (Gil joins as a “Crusader,” rather than a “martyr,” so perhaps he’s safe from that.)

In all: I liked it, I read all three books in a single afternoon, and recommend it.

Rated: Nine and a half flaming swords out of thirteen

The Dead Ride Out

The dead ride out from Jezikhoor
At dawn of the day and noon.
They ride tall horses decked for war
They wear strange garments wove of yore
They speak strange language known of lore
At dawn of the day and noon.

The dead ride out of the river-lands
At dawn of the day and noon.
They bear long lances in their hands
They wheel and circle in stamping bands
They gallop their mounts across the sands
At dawn of the day and noon.

The dead ride out of the woodland glade
At dawn of the day and noon.
They tarry their mounts in the forest’s shade
Where grass lies deep and the horses wade
Through scattered bones of a long-gone raid
At dawn of the day and noon.

The dead ride forth from Dis and Hell
At dawn of the day and noon.
They ride in silence if all goes well,
They ride in peace that naught dispell;
They ride, each man an empty shell,
At dawn of the day and noon.

(With a tip of the hat to Robert E Howard.)