A thought-provoking “celebration” of the Englishman laced with tongue-in-cheek glamour and sprinkled with a deftly handled satire on contemporary superpowers and societies.
The book is short and there's a great deal of action and witty humor, it gets a bit more philosophical towards the end but I finished it in one sitting with ease.
An intergalactic mega empire scouts for new planets to dominate and one of his spaceships lands in 1345 Lincolnshire, England, where even “the lowliest serf looked up from his acre and dreamed of freeing the Holy Land and picking up a coffer of gold on the way”. What was a routine mission soon becomes the aliens’ worst nightmare.
The plot is linear and tightly focused and it fits the subtlety of the book's themes just fine: I liked the story direction, but it’s the unfolding that is source of constant entertainment. I’ve never read anything by Poul Anderson before, but I soon trusted him, the prose, the narrative structure and the setting premises themselves make the whole adventure sound plausible.
The story is truly humorous, original, absurd and full of boldness, bravado and deceit, centered around a space jacquerie uprising led by a medieval noble knight. I'm a fan of England, a sucker for the Hundred Years' War (the earlier part at least) but I find anything related to gunpowder already too modern to bear; fact is, this book is so enthralling I got hooked immediately: knights and blue aliens? Livestock to confound airborne patrols? Archery and spacecraft? Heavy chivalry pitted against tanks? A whole village traipsing in the space and the main problem is how to calculate Easter?
The characters feel authentic, like the forlorn baroness, the ambitious young knight or the rambunctious archer (no way a good book about Englishmen in the middle-ages can miss an archer!) and then of course the catchy protagonists: Sir Roger Baron de Tourneville, the man of war, takes circumstances in stride and seizes the bull by the horns, while Brother Pelvus, the narrator, the man of religion, tries to understand the implications of their actions, but both apply the filter of their culture (with the right mix of superstition, crusading spirit and hard-life experience) on the events, to utterly hilarious consequences and unexpected results.“The clinching proof of my reasoning is, that I’ll cut anyone who argues further into dogmeat.”
Actually, I felt that in his crude way my master had grasped truth. In my spare time I would recast his logic into proper syllogistic form, to make sure;
Very soon it gets so charming that I started to find logical everything I read, and internally it was for sure! Add into the fray a super powerful alien society grown complacent in their own superiority, a few surviving subjugated civilizations, some practical English diplomacy and… Oh, now I just loved reading this.“And why? Well, on Earth there’ve been many nations and lords for many centuries, all at odds with each other, under a feudal system nigh too complicated to remember. Why’ve we fought so many wars in France? Because the Duke of Anjou was on the one hand the sovereign king of England and on the other hand a Frenchman! Think you what that led to: and yet ‘tis really a minor example. On our Earth, we’ve perforce learned all the knavery there is to know.”