Simon R. Green does love his punny titles. A Hard Day’s Knight picks up immediately after The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny left off. John just gets home from rescuing Tommy Oblivion and killing Walker and is looking forward to some down time with Suzie when she give him some unpleasant news. Something came in the post for him. And when he spots it, that something looks suspiciously sword shaped.
And it is Excalibur. Someone has sent it through ordinary post to John. But why him? If there was every anyone not worthy to hold such an item, its John. And yet clearly he’s meant to be carrying it for some reason. It feels right to pick it up and wield it. When Suzie reaches for it, she just knows that she’s not worthy enough to touch it.
In order to find out the answer to his question, he has to go out to London Proper, to find the London Knights. The London Knights are the descendants of King Arthur’s original round table knights. They have been training down the centuries for the time that Excalibur would come back into the world and Arthur would wake from his long sleep. They know more about the myth and legend (and facts) that is King Arthur than any group or person.
Of course, since they are descended from Arthur’s knights, they very much disapprove of the Nightside and all its denizens (this includes the practically saintly Julien Advent). They are not happy that John has Excalibur rather than one of them, but the Lady of the Lake pops in and tells them all to grow up. Some of you Green fans might recognize the Lady of the Lake, Gayle (Gaea-Mother Earth) from Drinking Midnight Wine. Green so does love to intertwine his story lines, which I love.
John has a destiny (which he really isn’t a happy about). He is to wake Arthur and prevent the Elves from going to civil war with each other. Of course, no one knows exactly where Arthur is sleeping, but that’s minor details! Especially when the aforementioned Elves break into the London Knights’ demesne of Castle Inconnu. There is a great battle where much ass is kicked and John…manages to lose Excalibur to a man (and former Knight) named Jerusalem Stark (great name).
So of course, he has to get it back. Stark runs to the Nightside to sell Excalibur to King Artur of Sinister Albion. Sinister Albion is an alternate history of Camelot where Merlin Satanspawn accepts the title of Antichrist and everything goes to shit. Quite literally. John and Suzie are so close to getting Excalibur back when she kills Artur and Stark escapes to Sinister Albion. This swordbearer thing is a lot harder than it sounds.
So they go to the Doormouse (and I’d love to see an artist’s rendering of this character because he sounds just so delightfully fuzzy) and get a door to this alternate earth. We see yet more mayhem and ass kicking and John finally gets Excalibur back. The Gaea from this time track sends them back to the Nightside but they’re a bit worse for wear. They’re filthy from the fighting and since they ended up in the wishing well of the Mammon Emporium (poor thing), they decide that cleaning up is the first order of business. Luckily you can find pretty much anything in the Mammon Emporium and that includes heavy duty cleaners. Half an hour and they’re good as new but the night is long and so very far from over.
John heads back to London Proper (with Suzie this time because he gets in trouble otherwise) and they bang on the door of the Castle Inconnu until they’re allowed in. John refuses to let the Knights beat around the bush any longer and insists on talking to their so called Grand Master. Imagine their surprise at coming face to face with Sir Kae, who they ran into in Paths Not Taken. And of course he still remembers them (how many people do you think have brained him with his own mace?) though he holds not grudges.
Turns out that Merlin, in all his nasty sense of humor, made Kae immortal so that something of the old, glorious Camelot would be around when Arthur woke up. And he is the only one who knows where Arthur is buried. And it isn’t Avalon (a rumor Kae started) and it isn’t Glastonbury (a modern myth I believe). It’s the basement of Strangefellows because honestly, who would think to look there. Especially with Merlin being buried right next to him.
Kae leads John, Suzie and Alex (because its his bar god damn it) into the cellars and John lays Excalibur at Arthur’s feet. Arthur pops awake as if its been mere hours, though he has been listening in his sleep this whole time (an easy way to get Arthur to speak modern English, natch). There is much rejoicing between brothers and much drinking by Arthur, whose quite thirsty after almost fifteen hundred years.
Still, they’re not quite sure what exactly they need to do. John doesn’t get much time to enjoy being in the presence of a legend. He gets a call from Julien Advent, who insists on meeting right. Now. So John fires up the portable timeslip from Walker’s watch (which he stole before Walker took a swan dive) and meets Julien…at the place where Griffin Hall used to stand. Where Walker was killed by John’s own hand.
Julien shows John that Elves have come to the Nightside and are slaughtering people. He doesn’t know which faction they come from but it hardly matters. He demands John do something. John says he has an idea that Julien will almost certainly not like and then whisks himself off to Strangefellows before Julien can object. He tells the others what is happening and asks Kae to get his Knights. It order to do this in a timely fashion however, they have to go back to the Doormouse, who throws himself at Arthur and snuggles. Its rather cute.
The Doormouse is how the Elves got into Castle Inconnu earlier and though he isn’t entirely unrepentant, he does agree to send them back. There’s much rejoicing (yay) by the Knights at seeing their king alive and well. Arthur rouses them to battle and the whole lot of them (around a thousand in all) head into the Nightside via the Knights’ own dimensional doors (which I can only imagine must be operated from within the hall because otherwise why wouldn’t Kae use that instead of the Doormouse?).
Elves and Knights clash until the Elves are beaten down. John is pissed at this whole thing because there are people, his people, dead and dying in the streets and buildings mere ruins now. He’s damn well tired of the carnage and demands that Mab, Oberon and Titania parley with Arthur. And it is Arthur’s presence that ensures they actually do, because the Elves still have honor and they have old agreements with Camelot and her king.
In order to press upon every one that a civil war is most definitely a bad idea, John brings them all to a place he’s been working to erase since Something from the Nightside. The dead future timeline where he killed Razor Eddie is still a possibility (and he wishes he knew why, because he really wants to avoid it). Arthur and Kae are shocked and horrified. Oberon and Titania agree that perhaps a civil war is a bad thing but what can they do?
Its then that Arthur tells them of the Doormouse and his doors to alternate earths. There is a pristine earth behind one of those doors. An earth that has never known a sentient being, let alone something like and elf or a human. The Elves can thrive there, can be themselves there. Oberon and Titania agree but Mab, crazy Mab, does not. She’s all set to kick off some major carnage when she’s taken out (very trickily) by her own son, Puck.
And so war is averted for now. The Elves go to their paradise, where they can thrive. Oberon locks the door to that plane and disappears into Shadows Fall. He and Titania don’t belong in the new world. They are far too old fashioned for it. Arthur goes off with the Lady of the Lake, to await the Final Battle (whenever and wherever that may be). Kae gets to stay through the coming years the hard way. Again.
And John gets a bit of surprising news from Suzie. But we’ll wait until the next book to spill that little tidbit. :-) This was great. I loved the whole thing, beginning to end. If you could read just one of the Nightside books, I’d have to say that this should be it. Rating: A+.