Thomas D Lee’s debut Perilous Times is a strange amalgam of post-apocalyptic eco-thriller and classic fantasy liberally laced with plenty of satire. It is set in a Britain ravaged by climate change, features rapacious corporations, plucky revolutionaries and climate refugees. But it also centres around the Arthurian legends and the knights of the Round Table. For the most part, though, Lee manages to make this mashup work.
Sir Kay, brother of an adopted King Arthur and one of the knights of Camelot, re-emerges whenever Britain is in peril. When Perilous Times opens, Sir Kay climbs from the earth beneath his sacred oak and finds himself helping a woman called Mariam who is in the process of blowing up a fracking facility. The explosion not only destroys the facility but awakens a dragon, one of the many pieces of evidence that leads Mariam to believe that Sir Kay is, in fact, who he says he is. Meanwhile, in London, Lancelot has also awoken but he has spent the last centuries working for Marlowe, an immortal representative of the British Government. And Marlowe has other plans, including saving the mega-wealthy and trying to bring about the return of King Arthur.
There is a lot going on in Perilous Times. It is set in a day-after-tomorrow Britain which is riven by rampant and destructive climate change. The cities have become giant refugee camps and the wealthy have retired to a repurposed oil rig called Avalon. Fighting against this is a ragtag collection of groups from Mariam’s militant feminist vegans to Welsh and Scottish nationalists. And while many feel that a figure like King Arthur may be the thing that will turn the situation around, both Kay and Lancelot know that the truth is far different to the myth.
But in the end, for all of its battles and dragons and mayhem this is satire. Lee channels both Monty Python and Douglas Adams in fashioning his motley knights, dastardly cardboard villains, squabbling freedom fighters and a plucky heroine. He includes an out-of-sorts (due to drought and pollution) Lady of the Lake, a drug dealing Merlin who has his own agenda, and a conflicted Morgan le Fay.
Perilous Times does not always get its mix of genres and tones exactly right and the whole endeavour goes on a little too long. But Lee does more than enough to stick the landing. And he does so with a fairly obvious message around self-empowerment. That is, if we want to avoid the type of future he has envisaged then it is up to everyone to take a stand. And while this message is sometimes a little too overt it is one that is worth repeating.
For more of Robert’s reviews, visit his blog Pile By the Bed
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Blue Skies (TC Boyle)
- Catch Us The Foxes (Nicola West) – book review
- Damascus Station (David McCloskey) – book review
Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed.