A talky addendum to the Arthurian cycle, set ten years after the great king’s death.
McCormack’s Dark Ages are less grittily realistic than the Dark Ages, say, of those other great miners of Arthurian legend, the assembled wits of Monty Python (“How do you know he’s a king?” “Because he hasn’t got shit all over him”). True, Monthy Python worked in a different genre—humor—but, even so, McCormack’s world comes off as a cool and didactic place where people are always informing one another of the eternal and momentary verities: “An Ealdorman is a chieftain, but a Cyning is a ruler over chieftains,” one character helpfully explains to another (the explainer is Gereint, rescued from appearing only as a clue in the New York Times crossword puzzle). McCormack’s tale goes thus: After Arthur sails away to Avalon, Britain is a lawless place, beset by Saxon invaders and other pests who have, naturally enough, heard wondrous tales of a thing called the Holy Grail. It’s up to one of Arthur’s junior lieutenants, Budoc, now a hermit, to stop them from befouling Albion with their presence and from making off with any such treasures. With the aid of a few likely and unlikely companions, he does what he can toward that end. That would be all to the good if there were more swords-and-sorcery stuff, or at least a few more martial set pieces to quicken the pace. But, as it is, McCormack’s characters mostly chat among themselves, those old enough remembering the good old days, the younger ones just twittering along. The mood overall is Prince Valiant with a little booze and the occasional breast, together with the requisite oratory (“He serves all things in the Sea-girt Green Space . . . all things in the Honey Isle”), but not quite the requisite amount of blood.
A mixed bag: no threat to The Once and Future King, but a pleasant enough outing for fans of the hobbit and fairy-tale genre.