Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
This is the third volume of a trilogy called `The Invisible College’. The first volume was `They Do Things Differently Here’ and the second was `Dust and Shadows’. These have already been reviewed.
The story starts with our hero, Peter having a dream of The Fisher King. He is discomforted by this dream as he comes to realise he has misunderstood the fable. This is quite a good passage in the tale as it induces the reader to check on the original story. I have to confess I have done this a number of times when reviewing this trilogy just to verify quoted sources.
Our heroes, Peter and Emily have discovered that their father is numbered amongst the Masters of the Sect, an ancient cult whose supporters in the district of Templewood are divided into two factions; the Pros and the Cons. In the previous volume, Peter has been identified as some sort of Chosen One by the Sect. This provides him with a certain invincibility in his dealings with everyone in Templewood, an area which has been kept off the map by reason of political and religious purpose. The four farms in Templewood are being used to develop fruit and vegetable varieties that can sustain climate change. There is also an ill-defined military presence suggesting some state complicity in the prevailing arrangements.
The Sect has a plan to seize control of the entire planet so that it can be brought into a new golden age of social and economic order. Its objectives and the means to achieve this plan are written down in three volumes of a secret book. Volume three of this work has been missing for centuries but Peter has been fortunate enough to find a copy. Gradually it becomes apparent that the Sect intends to achieve their goal through tilting the axis of the earth by hitting it with a large asteroid whose presence has been obscured deliberately from astronomers and scientists by device and political influence. The Sect plans to launch a missile to nudge this asteroid into a path where it collides with the earth. They are supported in this endeavour by the Pro faction who represent the more violent, authoritarian wing of the Sect supporters.
In many ways, this volume is the story of Peter’s progress towards frustrating the plans of the Sect. It is a gradual tale in which both Peter and the supporters of the Sect progressively come to fully understand what exactly is going on. The lead up to the final public act of defiance is arguably the best-written part of the entire trilogy. It would be unfair to detail the final outcome but Peter discovers who he is and what he could be, whilst the Sect has to absorb a set-back to its intentions. This leaves an open end to the book.
The Invisible College sequence is a long tale, poorly rendered with an over-complicated plot. The essence of good fantasy is to base it in a practical reality. Owen Knight has endeavoured to do this but has seriously over-estimated his competence. A story of this nature would have been better produced if it had not been extended across three volumes of fairly intense narrative of which only some was interesting. To be fair, fiction does not seem to be Owen Knight’s creative forte. He has an obvious preference for factual writing as many of the good bits are of a purely instructive nature. My own writing origins were in financial reporting and it is easy on a bad day to fall back into old, tedious habits. The important thing is to recognise it when it happens. Knight appears to lack the emotion to breath independent life into his story. Consequently, it can drag on and on.
This trilogy would have benefited greatly from professional editing and much rewriting. A crisper, faster moving plot would have drawn the reader into a comfortable and exciting complicity with the writer. The only complication with that idea is that the end product would have read like a Dan Brown novel, but then if you use similar source material you can easily end up with an outcome that seems much the same.