Let me begin my review by first saying that we are truly blessed as readers and reviewers to be part of an amazing revolution in the book industry at this very moment. Never before have self-published authors had such visibility and a platform to get their work out there and read by such a large portion of the book-buying public. This is really a great development and I personally have been fortunate enough to read some fantastic entries already in the Self-Published Fantasy Book-Off.
That has only continued with this the first book in the Knights' Protocol trilogy by British Fantasy author Phil Parker. The title of the book is THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND and as I mentioned, it is one of 300 entries in this year's SPFBO, showcasing a ton of great and talented authors. When I received a review copy of this title from the author a couple of weeks back, I snuck a quick peek at the first page as I often like to do with new books that I will be reviewing.
The opening sentence of the book grabbed me almost immediately: "There were fairies at the bottom of my garden and they were torturing someone." Now there's an opening line that will either have you running for the hills or diving in head first! For me it was definitely the latter and as I plopped myself down on my comfy couch that night to begin reading THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND, there was definitely a feeling of great anticipation of what I might encounter in the pages to follow.
THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND alternates between two different realms living side by side - the human realm, which is modern-day Glastonbury, and the fairy realm populated by both light and dark fairies. Robin Goodfellow is a fairy who has been exiled from the fairy realm and has lived among humans now for centuries. The crime for which he was exiled is not immediately revealed, but what is known is that Robin is shunned and hated by both his fairy brethren and also his human neighbors. Humans see him as a vile demon and therefore give him a wide berth not quite trusting him, while his fellow fairy folk despise him for very different reasons. You see, Robin is a shit-talker and instigator of sorts. He's also a very tortured individual.
Robin has the ability to summon incredible power and ferocity through his alter-ego Puck, who he is constantly battling to keep at bay since his new life began in the human realm. That's not to say he hasn't been tempted to unleash Puck in certain instances where he's felt threatened or just plain wanted revenge on one or two of his enemies. Robin is soon visited by one of those enemies Llyr, an utterly evil fairy from the Dark Court who it seems has a not-so-great history with Robin that goes back to his pre-exile days. Accompanying Llyr on his visit is Robin's one-time friend and lover, Oisin. Oisin has obviously been brought against his will to be used as leverage by Llyr to get what he wants from Robin. The conversation starts out semi-cordially but quickly escalates as Llyr begins angrily questioning Robin and demanding to know "Where are you hiding the Knights!!?" The Knights that Llyr is referring to are teenage twin brother and sister wards of Robin's who he has sworn to protect.
The twins are from a special line of humans who alone have the power to defeat the fairies should a war ever occur between the two realms. Llyr becomes increasingly unstable during his questioning of Robin and it is clear that he has been plotting for some time to attack the human realm, but first he must eliminate the obvious threats that the Knights pose to his well-laid plans. Robin somehow manages to escape Llyr and flee with Oisin before Llyr can realize what is happening. They run away in a moment of confusion and after collecting themselves, embark on a search to find the twin Knights. Knowing Llyr's plans, It is now up to Robin and Oisin to find the twins and avoid a potentially catastrophic war between the Realms. The only problem is that the Knights have been abducted by human slavers and Llyr is in hot pursuit with his fellow dark fae. The fae are at the cusp of igniting an all-out attack on the Human Realm while it is at its weakest and most vulnerable.
You see, the sea levels have risen and society is in a shambles in human England. And this is the perfect chance for the Dark Court to take back what was once firmly in their control, tearing through the divide that separates their magical home and reality. Can Robin and Oisin rescue the Knights before Llyr reaches them? Will Llyr succeed and his dark fairy cohorts descend on Glastonbury with a violent fury that finally obliterates the humans for good? In a world where the line between human and supernatural is being blurred by the minute, a final war may be a very real certainty if Llyr is allowed to win. And the only one who can save this all from happening is battling his own inner-demons and trying to come to terms with his conflicted feelings for a former lover that he thought were buried long ago.
THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND is a very ambitious book. There are so many themes and conflicts going on at the same time. There's also an interesting combination of modern dialogue with a more traditional Arthurian backdrop complete with fairies. Much of the action takes place in the same geographic area where Camelot was historically located. In fact, it's where Robin's cottage is built that he lives in while exiled in the human realm. This lends a very nice contrast to the modern real world element of characters who aren't afraid to throw around some profanity, and also a gay main character, which unfortunately is not seen nearly enough in Fantasy books these days (although it is slowly getting better).
I found the fact that Phil Parker wrote his main character as gay quite refreshing because I am a firm believer that our art should reflect the times that we live in. With LGBTQ rights becoming more and more protected and the community coming into its own in the last decade, it really is important to write books like this and more importantly, to READ books like this. At the same time, the fact that Robin is gay is never put forward in the kind of way where it seems forced into the story line but rather, it's just one of many things that make up who he is. So the relationship between Robin and Oisin flows naturally within the story as the book goes on and as with any relationship, there is friction and there are challenges to be faced by the two as they also try to rescue the Knights.
The prose is simply beautiful and I found myself at times really sympathizing with Robin as a tortured soul who is not accepted by anyone. He is the true definition of a loner but this never holds him back from always trying to do the right thing. He admits in the book that his fatal flaw is caring about what happens to others and we see this vividly through his actions and interactions. There is quite a bit of suspense as the book goes on and it slowly builds to a crescendo as both Llyr and Robin are racing to achieve each of their specific ends, one good, one evil. THE BASTARD FROM FAIRYLAND offers so much to like and I really did enjoy my journey into this intriguing dual world of human and fairy.
Another great entry in the SPFBO challenge that I think could really make some noise. There are two other books in this trilogy and I definitely plan on reading both in the near future. But for now I am just going to savor what was a truly wonderful reading experience. This one is definitely worthy of some notice, so check it out. It's a book that takes you to a Fantasy world unlike any other but also reflects our times in a very real way. A unique and fresh modern take on a genre that sorely needs more books like this.
(My Rating: 8/10)