A Hard Day’s Knight

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+.

The Unnatural Inquirer

So I think I’ve gone and kick started myself back to reading. I started and finished Simon R. Green’s The Unnatural Inquirer yesterday afternoon. 🙂

So The Unnatural Inquirer starts off with John wrapping up a case at the HP Lovecraft Memorial Library (hee) and running into two very dangerous people outside, Walker and Suzie Shooter. Now John doesn’t mind seeing Suzie since they’re an item and are, in fact, living together. But it is never a good thing when Walker shows up and now is no exception.

Walker has hired Suzie to track down one of the Nightside’s Major Players, Max Maxwell the Voodoo Apostate. “The man so big they named him twice”.  Suzie, being a bounty hunter, is quite good at finding people. But Max has dug a hole and pulled it in after him. So Walker needs John to find him because Max was dumb and unleashed a bunch of loa (voodoo gods/beings) using something called the Aquarius Key (as in the song. It was the 60s).

They start at Max’s office and John uses his gift to show what Max was doing last, then following the ‘ghost’ Max out into the Nightside and all the way to one of the Nightside’s Bad Places. Even in a place like the Nightside, there are Bad Places. The Fun Faire is one of them. Someone had decided that an amusement park was just the thing that the people needed and of course it went horribly, horribly wrong. They’ve tried to exorcise the place fourteen times to no avail but that means that only the stupid or desperate would willingly go there. Like Max.

John and Suzie corner Max only he wasn’t as stupid as they thought. Okay, he was but he had a plan that required him entering the Fun Faire. You see, all the really bad juju that was in the Faire soaked into the Aquarius Key, supercharging it. Max wants to transport himself to the land of the loa, use the key to take over and transform himself into a god. Except the loa are pissed with a capital P and are hunting him down, first in the bodies of some of the Nightside’s best bounty hunters (not Suzie though. They wouldn’t dare) and then by the decaying bits of Fun Faire like the dodge ’em cars and carousel ponies.

And through this, Max still tries to get away from John and Suzie. First Suzie blows his hand off so they can get the Key and shut everything down and then she blows his kneecap off because he threatened her and John. Finally John, with a bit of surprise help from Walker, get the loa back where they belong with the promise of severe punishment for Max. He’s being sent to Shadow Deep, the Nightside’s own and terrible prison (cross Azkaban with no dementors with the Cask of Amantillado).

After that, Suzie goes to collect her bounty and John gets a new job with the Nightside’s very own gossip rag The Unnatural Inquirer. They print everything whether its true or not and the nastier the better. They keep the whole company in a pocket dimension so their many and varied enemies can’t destroy them (because that has been tried). John gets picked up by some time reporter Harry Fabulous (remember him?) and transported right into the lobby, where he’s forced to wait for the assistant editor Scoop Malloy (its not what you think. He used to work with animals).

And what problem could the foremost gossip paper possibly need John Taylor for? Well, they have purchased what might possibly be a recording of the Afterlife, made by a mousy little man named Pen Donovan. Only before they could get their hands on it, Donovan and his recording went missing. So John is to find him. The catch is that he must bring along demon (literally) girl reporter Bettie Divine. Bettie is half-succubus and half Rolling Stone (which one is never specified). John balks at this but they offer him a staggeringly good fee.

They stop by the Hawk’s Wind Bar & Grill (and can I just say how cool it would be to go there?) and talk about what Bettie knows about Donovan and who might be behind the disappearance. In the end, its much speculation and little facts so they go to Pen Donovan’s flat which is fairly nondescript. He was one of many timeslip junk dealers and he wasn’t doing well by the looks of things. His television was done up with unusual tech, which makes both John and Bettie think that maybe, just maybe, he did record something after all.

With no signs of Donovan and no real clues, they head to the Street of the Gods to see if anyone there knows what’s going on. No one does though they do start thinking that marketing CDs is a damn fine idea for raising money. John starts a minor god war and they leave posthaste, discussing how real they think this recording is. John decides that he’s going to need a word with Walker and heads them both to the Londinium Club.

The last Doorman died in the the Lilith War but they have a new one, decked out in full Victorian chic. John tries getting around him the easy way but its no go and so he has to stare the poor man down. Finally they get a word with Walker and John asks where he can find the Collector. Surely the Collector will either have the the recording or know where it is. Walker tells them that the last he knew, the Collector was in the Museum of Unnatural History. In the Tyrannosaur exhibit. The living Tyrannosaur exhibit. 😀

Well, the Collector turns out to be a bust though John and Bettie to get to outfox a Tyrannosaur. The next stop is the Cardinal, a defrocked priest who is like the Collector for religious/historic items. He doesn’t have it and he’s not sure if he wants it. Being a former priest, he doesn’t want to know for certain if heaven exists. John mentions that the thought he had of the Removal Man being out for it and the Cardinal freaks.

The Removal Man is a Nightside boogie man of sorts. No one’s ever seen him but the story is, if someone offends his sense of morality (which isn’t hard in the Nightside), he disappears them. They cease to exist. John and Bettie find themselves unceremoniously kicked out of the Cardinal’s place…and the man is immediately attacked. They break back in but he is gone and there is no sign of anyone else there.

In the middle of all this (like my segue?), there are three people who are vying for the spot of the recently deceased Authorities: General Condor (from a future timeline), Uptown Taffy Lewis (major real estate man, very obese and so far from nice he can’t even spell it), and Queen Helena (another future timeline person who claimed to be Queen of the earth after the sun starts dying). They all want John to back them, which he doesn’t do and doesn’t want to do. Eventually, he starts a major street fight between the lot and lets Walker sort it out.

At a dead end, John is warning Bettie this could be quite a long case when old friend Alex Morrisey calls up in a state. Well…when is Alex not in a state? Anyway, it seems like Mr. Pen Donovan has showed up in Strangefellows and driven off the usual clients. John uses his membership card to transport them right there (because Alex is really cranky).  Donovan looks quite the worse for wear and is being a bit paranoid (which is healthy in the Nightside really), for good reason. Kid Cthulu sends a bunch of thugs in the bar after him. John, Alex and the bouncer sisters the Coltranes kick the crap out of them and then John calms Donovan down and takes the DVD of the Afterlife Recording from him.

Alex hesitantly agrees to let John view the recording and leads him upstairs to his flat above the bar. And John is stunned at the state of it. It’s clean! Alex’s pornographic porcelain figurines are gone. He has matching furniture! Turns out, Alex is dating someone. Well, living with someone really. And who is that? To John’s enormous shock, its his secretary (and daughter in every way that matters), Cathy Barrett. He disapproves at first (Cathy is nineteen and Alex is about John’s age) but then admits that Cathy is an adult and can take care of herself.

Determined to talk about that later with Alex, John and Bettie finally get down to watching the Afterlife Recording when John notices something. Every face on the recording is that of Pen Donovan. Every tortured soul, every demon, is Donovan. So clearly this is not the real deal but a case of psychic imprinting (discussed earlier in the book). But why would a mild little man like Pen Donovan believe himself to be hellbound?

John heads back downstairs and asks Donovan just that. Turns out that he put down his dog for a woman, who left him eventually anyway. The dog was perfectly healthy and his only real friend. He feels guilty about that, terribly guilty. Wondering why all this was coming up now since it apparently happened some time ago, John discovers that Pen Donovan is inhabited by some sort of parasite that feeds off his guilt and fear. And he’s pretty much dead. So John finds the one thing that will ease Donovan’s guilt and pain. His dog, Prince. He opens a door to the afterlife (or makes it appear he does) and the dog comes back, assures Donovan that he doesn’t hold him responsible (yes, a talking dog. Live with it) and takes him back to heaven with him. John then squishes the ever living fuck out of the parasite because there are some things he just does not put up with.

Thinking that he’s all set and can finally get the damn DVD to the Unnnatural Inquirer, John finds himself sidetracked by Kid Cthulu. He and Bettie end up in Uptown with Kid Cthulu, surprise-surprise, tries to kill them. John gets there first only to find himself face to face with the Removal Man. Sometimes it just does not pay to get out of bed. After dealing with him and the man behind his power (the editor of the Unnatural Inquirer), John finally gets around to returning the Aquarius Key to Walker outside the Londinium Club (it has new decorations, the heads of Helena, Condor and Uptown Taffy Lewis). He turns the DVD over to Bettie and the Unnatural Inquirer and all is good. For now.

This book was great because it was a fairly lighthearted book for the Nightside arc. It was more comedic than the last few and gave us a good break from the doom and gloom of the Lilith war. I highly recommend this book. Rating: A+.

Sharper Than A Serpent’s Tooth

Next up on the hit parade is Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth. After the events of Paths Not Taken, the Nightside is at war with Lilith. John just knows that he has to be the one to defeat his mother. No one else really stands a chance but first, he has to rescue his secretary Cathy from the tender clutches of Walker. Its here that we find out, to no one’s surprise, that he thinks of Cathy as a daughter more than a secretary.

John discovers that Walker is keeping her in the Necropolis with protections that means he can’t see what sort of trap he (and Suzie) will be walking into. Still, he goes anyway. He can’t not. Alex helps him leave Strangefellows without being seen, an old family secret for a rainy night. From there, John goes to the Doormouse, a life-size bipedal mouse that deals in transportational doors. After some haggling and a bit of growling by Suzie, the Doormouse transports them right to the outside of the Necropolis (never inside any establishment, its too dangerous), where they run into Razor Eddie.

Razor Eddie had heard of Cathy’s plight and came to help, if only to stick it to Walker. Eddie uses his newly enhanced pearl handled straight razor and opens up the dimensional wall between the Nightside and the Necropolis’ graveyard. There they find necromancer Sandra Chance (formerly involved with the Lamentation) and Tommy Oblivion. Tommy thinks he’s doing the right thing. Sandra just wants revenge. With nothing for it, Tommy wakes up the sleeping Cathy, who promptly kicks him in the balls because he doesn’t want to kill John, just keep him busy.

And Sandra does a stupid. She tries to take her revenge by raising the dead but they are seriously protected. Which is of course just when Walker double crosses them all and locks them in the Necropolis. The group fights together to keep the guardian of the dead from killing them all until John points out to Eddie right where his previous opening had been. That area is weak and Walker didn’t know Eddie would be there. Luckily, they escape but the hardship isn’t over yet.

John sends Tommy to escort Cathy to Strangefellows while the rest of them go to the Street of the Gods. When they get there, they find it utterly destroyed. Lilith had already been there, making a grand entrance and killing quite a lot of things, almost including Walker himself. Walker survives and he and John finally get on the same side. John sends them off to Strangefellows to heal Walker while he goes to find Dead Boy and Julian Advent.

He finds Dead Boy working as a bouncer and cajoles/threatens him to joining John. They find Julian Advent being Julian Advent and help him rescue a bunch of fairies in a sweat shop for magic items. After that’s finished, John tells Julian and Dead Boy that he needs to be sent into the future to talk to his Enemies, the ones who had haunted him throughout his life with the Harrowing. And to do that, he needs to summon an angel. There is a lot of argument about how this is very stupid but John is insistent, besides he knows this angel-the former succubus Pretty Poison.

She is more than a little mad at his presumption but she helps him anyway. She sends him into the future. He has to dodge monstrous, hate-filled creatures to get to his enemies but he does it. And he talks his way out of immediate death, so there’s that. He gets information from them and promises to change this future because he really doesn’t want it either. In the end, they agree to send him back but they’re a little off with their timing. They send him back a week after he left and a lot of people think he’s done a runner. Idiots. When has John ever done a runner?

John goes to a magic crystal type shop and uses up pretty much every crystal ball and scrying pool to catch up on what he’s missed. And it isn’t pretty, not at all. Luckily though, most of the people he considers friends are still alive. Lilith has done some awful things including destroying the Time Tower and raising all the dead of the Necropolis to us as an army. Once he’s done catching up, John uses one last pool to contact Walker. They need to get in touch with the Authorities now.

The twosome meet up at the Londinium Club, naturally. Unfortunately, the Authorities turn out to be the cowardly, nasty jerks we all took them for. So its kinda nice that Lilith kills them all, even if it does shock the hell out of Walker. Now they’re really on their own. John pulls Tommy Oblivion out of Strangefellows via his membership card and forces Tommy to existential them to St Jude’s to find the Lord of Thorns, who unfortunately turns out to be no help at all.

Before John could come up with his next move, he’s ambushed by Sandra Chance and a bunch of fellow ruthless bounty hunters (and no Suzie is not among them). It seems the Reasonable Men, whom he killed two books ago, have parents who put out a major bounty on his head. Stupid people. John and Suzie kill them (Tommy was severely injured) and the three of them hobble back to Strangefellows.

John’s next idea: Retrieve the Speaking Gun from Old Father Time. Unfortunately with the Time Tower destroyed, John has to get to Shadows Fall the hard way, through the Tube. John leads Suzie, Dead Boy and Tommy Oblivion (newly healed and a bit of an idiot) out to the night once more. One by one, they all fall behind but John makes the train, gets to Old Father Time and retrieves the Speaking Gun. Time immediately sends him catapulting back to the Nightside…and right to Lilith.

No, Time is not conspiring with Lilith, she’s just that good. And it turns out that the Speaking Gun was a bad idea. If you recall, it was made of a person, all meat and gristle and bits of skin. Well, that person? You guessed it, Lilith. The gun gets incorporated back into her and she’s just about to get a hold of John and start her Master Plan when in swings the Collector with a weird ass timey-wimey device. He blinks in, grabs John and blinks out before Lilith can move. She is not a happy kitty.

Back in Strangefellows, all seems lost until Walker says something that give John the ultimate idea. You see, Lilith had been banished to Limbo a very long time ago. Only Walker, the Collector and John’s father Charles opening the Babalon Working back in the sixties let her back into the world. Only they were so shaken by it not working out correctly, they didn’t bother closing the working.

John realizes the way to fix this is to shove Lilith back through that propped open door to Limbo. And that the three people who are needed to do it are actually available, thanks to Lilith. John’s father drank himself to death when he was a kid and all dead people in the Nightside get buried in the Necropolis. The Necropolis that Lilith emptied by bringing the dead back to (some semblance) of life. John finds his father holed up in the Library (his sanctuary when he was alive) and Merlin (newly arisen without Alex’s help for once), retrieves him.

John has just moments to explain his plan and the threesome (reluctantly I must say) agree to close the Babalon Working. Of course, while they’re doing this, Lilith finally breaks down Strangefellows defenses and kills Merlin. John distracts her by demanding she explain her master plans (which she does in Bondian fashion). The door to Limbo springs back open and sucks her right to the edge but someone has to close the door from inside Limbo. John gets ready to do it but his father tackles Lilith, gives him the I’m-proud-of-you-son and the working shuts down. Crisis averted.

This book has its moments. Dead Boy, John and Julian Advent tearing apart a sweat shop was great…but kind of out of place in the grand scheme of this book. The Doormouse is lovely and introduces a character that comes back a couple times. Still, I think that perhaps he could have gone with a slightly longer book, just to drag things out a bit. This is supposed to be the dramatic bit. Still, very good book. Rating: B+.