Tor, 1998, 222 pages, C$29.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-86482-6
I will freely confess that I do not read much fantasy at the moment. I used to be a fan a few years ago, but dropped out sometime since then.
I’m not sure of my reasons. Maybe it’s the implicit rejection of technology and the unrealistic glorification of the European medieval era. Maybe it’s the casual acceptance of destiny as a way of life and the triviality of merit, or free-will. Maybe it’s the constant use of the monarchic system, with its rigid classes of royalty and commoners. Maybe it’s that my cartesian mind can’t deal with different causalities.
Whatever the reason(s), I now usually end up bored stiff by fantasy. Even given that I’m a fairly fast reader, I won’t touch fantasy novels and much less fat fantasy trilogies.
But (conflict-of-interest disclosure time) since I’ve met Yves Meynard a few times and since I like to do my part for Canadian SF&F&H, I decided to try The Book of Knights. Given its relatively thin 222 pages, at least I was assured of a fairly quick read.
The novel begins as a young boy named Adelrune discovers a tattered volume in his parent’s attic. This volume is, of course, The Book of Knights. In a small town where official doctrine is rigidly followed, the book represents evasion for Adelrune and soon, he’s running away to become a knight.
He eventually enters the service of a mage that will teach him, barring a hefty price. Then it’s off in the vast land, for Adelrune must prove his worth. Adventures ensue.
From the plot synopsis, it might appear as if Meynard didn’t take any chances, combining a familiar premise with a surefire way to maintain interest. I found myself constantly reaching for my copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
But it must be said that however classical The Book of Knights‘s premise is, Meynard does a pretty good job with it. Furthermore, the details themselves are original: We seldom feel as if we’re reading recycled Tolkien outtakes. Sagacious readers will experience a delicious thrill from time to time, as things suddenly go quite unlike how they could be expected to go.
Better yet, The Book of Knights manages to be satisfying and morally ambiguous in a genre where whiter-than-white victories are usually the norm. Adelrune’s quest might tangentially resemble other quests, but the resolution of it is certainly different. The quest itself was probably not the point of the book.
The Book of Knights is also unusually readable, something that may surprise readers of Meynard’s other stories. Despite a few longish passages (after the Inn passage, after the Ship passage), this novel can be read in almost a single sitting. Dialogues are written in a literate pseudo-medieval way (“I am very much older than I appear. All those whom I grew up with are dead; the country I dwelled in has been parcelled out into five duchies and patched back up several times.”) that somehow seems neither ridiculous, over-polished or intrusive.
While my basic opinion of fantasy remains unchanged, even I have to admit that The Book of Knights is a pretty good book. Although the hardcover might still be a bit overpriced at this moment (borrow it at the library), the paperback should be a worthwhile investment for a large segment of the SF&F readership. A strong contender for next year’s Aurora awards, The Book of Knights also heralds the arrival of a major new talent on the Fantasy scene. I can’t wait to see what Meynard writes next.