THE KING OF AVALON by Caractacus Plume, Silvatici Publishing, p/b £8.99
Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson
There are superbly enjoyable parts to this story but, sadly other bits are less exciting. These latter have a quality of H G Wells’ `The History of Mr Polly’ about them being more about social comment than the technological prophecies we associate with Wells.
It is accepted that coming into a series at Book Three is not helpful as the reader has to pick up speed somewhere and, seemingly aware of this, the author has taken the time and trouble in Chapter One to bed us all down into the story so far. There is also a short prologue to the tale which intimates as to what happened to the Elves the late Professor Tolkein sent overseas. This is quite a delightful passage that promises much.
Apparently, the magical Crowns of Albion have been mislaid, but whoever can recover them all will achieve the domination of the hidden faerie realms of Britain. The Hound Who Hunts Nightmares is a were-hound, a sort of supernatural Sherlock Holmes who works in close association with a Professor Cornelius Lyons, a well-known pugilist and seeming owner of One Punch Cottage. These are the good guys who are looking out for young Prince Tomas, a half-elf and putative heir to the Hidden Realms.
The tale is set in a half-light shadow of our own times. This is the most endearing and appealing aspect of this entire construct. Characters catch the bus, go shopping, live around Brighton and its wider area but then find themselves associating with vampires, elves, goblins and goodness knows what else in obscure places familiar only to the likes of them. There are secret doors, strange passageways, peculiar hostelries and far-away countries of myth and legend. It makes a rich soup which the author obviously enjoys, but he does tally over-long in some places. This is an absorbing read but by the very virtue of its complexity it has to take its time, such detail prevents the story from cracking along at a hearty pace.
The plot is simple. It is all about the adventures of Tomas as he grows up. This suggests that this tale is directed at the more youthful end of the market, but we are all children at heart. In seeking to recover one of the Crowns of Albion, Cornelius undertakes a contest with Lord Manfred de Warenne, a villainous vampire. The arrangement of this fight is conducted through the advertisement section of the Faery Horse and Hound. Then almost as a distraction a Prince Maffdetti-a-Su, a were-cat manifests from out of the East in search of the wicked Dr Chow.
This is where the story really starts and I can assure you that Mr Plume loves a chaotic plot, weaving it further into a rich tapestry by drawing in characters at the appropriate moment in the tale who have already been classified as unreliable earlier in the text. Each of these leading characters like Tomas’ cousin, Prince Edric has an assortment of odd-balls as retainers. Those of Mr Chow are amusingly, a devious, traitorous lot.
Even the One Punch Cottage crew have a bundle of strange supporters. The most amusing of these is Inspector Mordecai Jones of the Sussex Police Department of Special Cases. This takes us back to John Dickson Carr’s Colonel March of Scotland Yard who ran the Department of Queer Complaints. Boris Karloff played the Colonel in the film versions. I also particularly enjoyed the idea of M I Unseen! Talk about spooks!
This book sets out to be fun, a virtue it manages most of the time. Good value!