Today’s review is about PERILOUS TIMES by Thomas D. Lee, an Arthurian retelling with a modern twist. I absolutely loved this book and how it incorporates modern issues against the backdrop of a well-known, romanticized legend. I highly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in Arthurian myth with a heavy dose of commentary on the state of today.
Author: Thomas D. Lee
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publish Date: May 23, 2023
Print Length: 496
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An immortal Knight of the Round Table faces his greatest challenge yet–saving the politically polarized, rapidly warming world from itself–in this slyly funny contemporary take on Arthurian legend.
Legends don’t always live up to reality.
Being reborn as an immortal defender of the realm gets awfully tiring over the years–or at least that’s what Sir Kay’s thinking as he claws his way up from beneath the earth yet again.
Kay once rode alongside his brother, King Arthur, as a Knight of the Round Table. Since then, he has fought at Hastings and at Waterloo and in both World Wars. But now he finds himself in a strange new world where oceans have risen, the army’s been privatized, and half of Britain’s been sold to foreign powers. The dragon that’s running amok–that he can handle. The rest? He’s not so sure.
Mariam’s spent her life fighting what’s wrong with her country. But she’s just one ordinary person, up against a hopelessly broken system. So when she meets Kay, she dares to hope that the world has finally found the savior it needs.
Yet as the two travel through this bizarre and dangerous land, they discover that a magical plot of apocalyptic proportions is underway. And Kay’s too busy hunting dragons–and exchanging blows with his old enemy Lancelot–to figure out what to do about it.
In perilous times like these, the realm doesn’t just need a knight. It needs a true leader.
Luckily, Excalibur lies within reach.
But who will be fit to wield it?
With a cast that includes Merlin, Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and King Arthur himself–all reimagined in joyous, wickedly subversive fashion–Perilous Times is an Arthurian retelling that looks forward as much as it looks back . . . and a rollicking, deadpan-funny, surprisingly touching fantasy adventure.
I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.
PERILOUS TIMES is a brilliant modern retelling of Arthurian legend. It subverts the myth by using these classic characters to highlight poignant aspects of present-day culture and problems that are not limited to the west. In this version there two main points of view (POV), that of Sir Kay and Mariam. There is a more limited POV with Lancelot. Sir Kay is a Black knight of the round table. Mariam is Muslim. And Lancelot is gay and definitely not into Guinevere. There is also a minor character who is a transwoman.
I absolutely love all of these changes, particularly that Sir Kay is Black. As some may not know, there were Black people (Africans) living in what is now England during the early medieval times. (I only learned this fairly recently while reading CULTURE WARS last year.) I loved the bluntness of Mariam. She lives in an age where the end of time as she knows it is imminent thanks to climate change. My only quibble is that I thought Mariam, who is part of a free-thinking rebel faction, could have asked more pointed questions in the first half of the book. Then some muck ups might have been avoided. However, there are moments of levity as any humor present is on the dry side, which was perfect for me. The writing style is extremely approachable, has the perfect amount of showing and telling, and isn’t overly descriptive.
My favorite broad aspect of PERILOUS TIMES, though, is the incorporation of so many concepts relevant to our lives today. A lot of Kay’s inner dialogue really resonated with me with respect to how he sees the world. And how as one person one can feel so helpless in the grand scheme of things. I teared up a bit at some of the passages. With respect to the modern relevancy, in this allegory there are two overarching themes. First, the power to more easily facilitate change lies with a few who ultimately fail to do so for one reason or another, namely greed. The second general theme is to not underestimate the sway one person with conviction can have to make a mark.
With respect to the first theme, men in high places have the sway to create a positive change. The lifestyles of the rich and famous control the marionette strings of world order and planet health. However, greed and bureaucratic red tape make any efforts by the people nigh impossible to push through. This results in feelings of despair and hoplessness. These same men help turn the people’s focus to hate as a distraction and that focus is racism and xenophobia. In full deadpan on my part, I’m sure this doesn’t seem familiar at all. With respect to the second theme, one of the important takeaways is that it is ok and valid to feel angry. But use that emotion for positive change, not to hurt others.
There are also many other lessons on display in PERILOUS TIMES, which the author penned wonderfully through the lens of Arthurian characters. Nimue, classically known as the Lady of the Lake, represents the health of the water. King Arthur represents toxic masculinity and seems somewhat modeled after Trump and, possibly, Johnson. There is commentary about news and the magnification of opinions. That is, how one group can spin the news and how those in power can enhance or reduce its reach. And how the loudest voices don’t necessarily represent the majority or only opinion. But an echo chamber will make it seem that way.
There are multiple mentions of how important jobs related to security are no longer held by citizens of England. This leads to a lack of loyalty and increases security risks. This book also highlights the loss of our connection to the earth as we trade it for a materialistic society that harms our only home. And, I’m not done yet, even medical rights and invasion of privacy of one’s DNA is on the table in this retelling.
As I write this review I could probably go on and on, and I realize even more how profound I feel this book is. If you do not prefer commentary on today’s issues, then this isn’t the book for you. However, PERILOUS TIMES offers a valid introspection of our culture today as well as how past events can influence the once and future earth. The use of romanticized western legend to tell this tale is an ingenious mechanism to portray issues of import.
Content warnings: blood, xenophobia, racism, animal death
Reading format: Kindle e-book