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Percival's Angel
Anne Eliot Crompton
Roc Books, 256 pages

Percival's Angel
Anne Eliot Crompton
Anne Eliot Crompton has written several other novels. They include The Rainbow Pony (1995), The Wildflower Pony (1996), Gawain and Lady Green (1997), The Sorcerer (1994), Johnny's Trail (1986) and Queen of Swords (1980).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

The story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as we know it today owes a lot to early works such as Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur and epic poems like Tennyson's Idylls of the King, which collate ancient legends with pagan and Christian iconography to create a lasting, near universal myth. Arthur's fictional Knights are remembered for their honour and loyalty, their dedication to justice and good works -- very different in fact from what we know of actual chivalric figures from history -- and that's one of the points Crompton makes quite clearly with this story.

The author's previous books (Merlin's Harp, etc), explored the story of Arthur and his knights through feminist and pagan viewpoints. Add to that now the genuine fantastic element of Fey influences and you have the story of Percival, "Arthur's greatest Knight," as told here. Lili of the Fey, apprentice to Nimway, Lady of the Lake, is the childhood companion of young human Percy, raised among the Fey of the enchanted wood which surrounds Nimway's lake. Percival's mother Alanna, the runaway widow of a Knight, is well-versed in the reality behind the pretty stories of knightly deeds. She intends her son to live out his days with her in the safety of the Fey wood and have nothing to do with knighthood, or coarse humanity in general. But as Lili and Percy grow older, Alanna's desire is doomed to disappointment.

As Fey, Lili matures more quickly than her companion. She knows the differences between Fey and human, even if she doesn't exactly understand them. Looking at her reflection in a forest pool, Lili sees

"who I am know, and who I will be for a long time to come. Later, this face will change. It will coarsen. One day it will wrinkle. But I, Lili, will still be free."
In the Fey wood Lili has no doubts about who and what she is. Watching the adolescent Percival's growing depression with his life, however, she knows he is very different from her, in a way she can't really understand.

Merlin tells Lili that humans and Fey have different gifts. Fey possess "Simplicity, Clarity and Freedom," while each human owns a human Heart, "the World's Greatest Magical Power." As something of a sorcerer herself, Lili longs to know more about this Heart and what power it possesses.

The day a ragtag group of Knights wanders into the Fey wood is the day everything changes. While the bluff, earthy souls who blunder about in loud metal armour, with frequent shoutings of "Goddamn!", don't impress Lili, Percival is captivated. "Knights don't live to grub a root here, a piglet there..." he tries to explain to Lili. "Goddamn fishes live like that! Knights live for their King, for his Kingdom, their Honour! Fame! Riches! Each one his own!"

Thus begins Percival's quest to become one of Arthur's Knights. Driven by her own desire to obtain the power of a human Heart, Lili accompanies Percy. With the power of a magic ring called Victory given to her as a parting gift by the Lady of the Lake, Lili is Percy's protector and also his conscience, more attuned to the reality they find than Percy, whose dreams of knighthood have glamoured him as strongly as any spell. To Lili, Arthur and his Knights have little to do with the fine values they represent. Instead, mere common Humans -- a priest who risks his life to treat plague victims, or villagers who enter a burning building to rescue those trapped within -- amaze her. Is this what Human Heart is?

Lili's quest parallels Percy's, always moving just enough within the confines of older legends -- the Fisher King and the Holy Grail -- to almost turn them inside out. By the time Lili has gained her Heart and Percy his Knighthood, both realize it isn't what they thought it was. Coming to terms with that fact, and reaching something wiser than disappointment, each finds that what they needed all along was something they took for granted. Yet, neither can regret the journey, for "Nothing is so strange that Humans will not do it." Readers looking for a decidedly different take on the popular reconstructionist view of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table will find much to enjoy and consider in Crompton's latest book.

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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