The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard. Book review

The Locksley Exploit by Philip Purser-Hallard, Snowbooks, £7.99 p/b and ebook, Website

Reviewed by Stuart Douglas

This is another excellent book from Philip Purser-Hallard, which adds new layers to the fabulous series opener, ‘The Pendragon Protocol’ and paves the way for a third and final instalment to come.  With the return of many familiar characters from the first novel and the addition of a lot of new ones here, this certainly feels like a worthy entry in the annals of large scale modern fantasy series.

To recap, Purser-Hallard’s Britain of 2015 is one in which – unbeknownst to the mass of the population – ‘devices’ (most simply explained as long-surviving memes which take the form of mythical figures from Britain’s past) exists as mental parasites infecting select members of humanity and subtly guiding and informing their actions.  Chief amongst these devices are those who follow Robin Hood and those who follow (or rather wait to follow) King Arthur – and for obvious reasons of historical positioning these two factions don’t really get on.

Purser-Hallard did a masterful job in ‘The Pendragon Protocol’ in explaining this rather tricky concept and in creating an entire world in which these devices are central to British life, even if most Brits are unaware of them.  That ‘The Locksley Exploit’ consequently suffers a little from the unavoidable Middle Novel Syndrome is, therefore, hardly the author’s fault.  With set-up largely taken care of in Book 1 and final revelations obviously reserved for Book 3, ‘The Locksley Exploit’ undergoes the fate of many such titles and is, as someone once said, ‘all middle’.  Purser-Hallard is too good to make this anything less than interesting, however, and just about keeps all of his plates spinning, primarily by opening up the entire world of devices (quite literally!) and by pinching a trick from modern ‘Doctor Who’ and having this secret, government-sanctioned world be revealed to the unsuspecting public, with seemingly disastrous results.

Aiding the author in his endeavours is one rather clever trick.  The legends on which the devices are based – the ‘Matter of Britain’, to give it its proper name – are riddled with inconsistency, illogic and contradiction, and Purser-Hallard makes a conscious decision to mirror that in the narrative of these books.  Pleasingly, this allows him to have his cake and eat it, with any illogicality of plot explained away as ‘device induced story blindness’ and any sudden switch in characterisation or behaviour similarly dismissed as reflecting some new element of the myth.  At times, in fact, the entire story feels a bit like an intellectual puzzle in which there are more players than you could ever hope to keep track of – like a card game Pairs, a degree of the pleasure in this book is matching legend to action (‘oh wait there, if he’s doing that and it caused her to this, then he must be meant to be…’), and even if few readers can hope to have heard of all of the various myths which have accrued round King Arthur and Robin Hood, equally few will have heard of none of them.

This does lead to one minor weakness, in that it’s a little too obvious to the informed reader just what the two big twists will be at the end (or, more specifically, who they will involve).  But that’s a small quibble, and it’s hard to imagine a way in which the author might have avoided it.

For those readers who equate ‘urban fantasy’ with tales of a Hidden London comprised of secret alleyways, buildings shifted in time and streets accessible only through magic doors, ‘The Locksley Exploit’ is likely to come as something of a surprise.  But for the reader willing to try something different, this is a satisfying continuation of ‘The Pendragon Protocol’.