The eleventh, and apparently, penultimate Nightside book, A Hard Day’s Knight finally sees a return to form for both Simon R. Green and John Taylor.
One of my complaints about the last two Nightside books, is that Simon R. Green insisted on describing Nightside locations over and over again, that we’d already seen a hundred times. I felt that John Taylor needed to get out of the Nightside for a time, for both his benefit and ours as readers. In A Hard Day’s Knight, he does just that, visiting London Proper and alternate realities and worlds, and it absolutely gives us a breath of fresh air.
Excalibur has come to the Nightside, John Taylor isn’t worthy but for now, he’s wielding the Sword that isn’t a Sword and Never Was and woe betide anyone who gets in his way. The inhabitants of Sinister Albion want the sword and the death of everyone in the Nightside, the Elves are edging closer to a civil war that threatens all of life on our Earth, and John Taylor is Walker (it’s a job title you see, not a name). The book sets off with a reasonably relentless pace and a sense of humour we’ve not really had for some time. We pick up the story exactly where book 10 left off, and Simon gives us a brilliant domestic scene with John and Suzie that really shows how far they’ve come.
The characters are all interesting, London Proper is good, the London Knights are engaging and we meet a few old friends along the way. Sinister Albion is terrible and cruel and inhumane, and provides a grim backdrop to more development for John and Suzie’s relationship. Nothing is wasted, nothing feels like padding. There are still some minor continuity issues that are hangovers from the last two books (how exactly does John come to have Walker’s watch, baring in mind how Walker died), but they are truly dwarfed by the action, the prose and the dialog.
I was moved emotionally several times throughout the story and at times I felt that there was genuine peril. It’s clearly too far gone in the series to kill John, but perhaps you never know, and I did wonder if Green would rip out his heart by killing off Suzie.
It’s pulpy, lightweight stuff, no more or less than you would expect from the previous good Nightside books, but it’s well written, well paced and it delivers at all the right moments. This is the book I had been waiting for. John is finally himself, powerful and angry, but with a sense of honour and his love for Suzie is clear. I feel the loss of Walker as a reader, but John fills up that space as well. The Nightside is a minor character, not taking over the story as in previous books. The other supporting characters aren’t exactly deep, but they are interesting, dialog is good, and we see lots of old threads coming back into focus, which is always something I enjoy.
If you’ve enjoyed any of the previous series, you should definitely pick this up. After all, who can resist King Arthur, Excalibur, Golden Elves and an Evil so sinister it doesn’t need to wear any clothes. A Hard Day’s Knight finally delivers the kind of Nightside story the material and Green are capable of. It’s heroic, noble, despicable, detestable, kind, funny and cruel in spades. John Taylor wades through fields of mud and blood to fight an evil that deserves no less than death, looking for a sword he is not worthy to wield so that he can ultimately save the Nightside. That’s a little like how it felt reading books 9 and 10 to be honest. But we both made it, and here we are, near the end of all things, enriched and better for the experience. The pay-off was worth it.
I’m looking forward to the final instalment, hopeful that we get the Green that wrote A Hard Day’s Knight, and not the guy who put out Just Another Judgement Day and The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny.