I'm not going to write much about Alexander Irvine's new novel, One King, One Soldier, not because I didn't like it, or because I don't think it is worth thinking about, but because I'm mad at John Clute, who said everything I wanted to say about the book, and plenty I hadn't even thought about saying. I have no desire whatsoever to write dueling reviews with John Clute, a fool's quest if ever there was one.
Actually, I'm lying. Or vacilating. Or something. I've been thinking about One King, One Soldier for a few days now, thinking about its story of the Grail, the Knights Templar, Oak Island, Rimbaud, Jack Spicer, baseball, imperialism, and fate. The writing is strong, both clear and evocative (particularly in some of the sections about Africa), and the story is engrossing. Even if the last quarter of the book is not particularly convincing, not nearly as satisfying as the beginning, it would be hard to imagine any other way Irvine could have brought so many strands of story together. The problem he faced was the one faced by anybody using historical figures in their fiction: how close to alternate history do you want to get? Irvine might have been able to produce a more satisfying, less contrived storyline if he had made it clear his book took place in a parallel universe, but there is an entertaining tension to be had by fitting fiction into the shadows of known history, and doing so lets Irvine suggest themes he would not have been able to otherwise. One King, One Soldier is, among other things, about how the stories we tell influence the reality we live in, how what we believe determines our actions, how the ripples of those actions slip beyond our view and control.
(One tangential note: Jack Spicer's books are all, as far as I can tell, out of print. This is unforgiveable. He was one of the most important and most interesting American poets of the second half of the twentieth century. A good biography is available, as are his lectures, but not his poems. Call Congress! Contact your local small press! Circulate petitions! This is a travesty!
End of public service announcement.)