Book Review – The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality by Gahan Hanmer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was offered a free copy by the publisher. What made me say yes to this offer was that the story was about an attempt to set up a fake mediaeval kingdom in the modern world. As a (lapsed) 17th century re-enactor it ticked my ‘experimental archaeology’ box and I thought it would be worth reading.
Having read The Kingdom on the Edge of Reality it was much more than I had expected and I really enjoyed it on a number of levels.
Firstly there is a very interesting piece of straight literary fiction here. It isn’t a work of fantasy and there is strictly no magic. Given a billionaire determined enough this story could play out for real. The premise is simply that several hundred people are recruited over a period of over a decade to live in a remote and isolated part of Canada. These people are selected carefully for their lack of attachment to the modern world and their willingness to live in a pseudo mediaeval world. Those willing to invest in the project become the nobility, with rank determined by depth of funding.
What this story is really doing is exploring whether we really live in the modern world, with all its distractions and pressures, or whether we merely exist. Have we been reduced from humanity by our interactions with machines instead of each other?
The story starts near the end of the recruitment phase of the project. Our protagonist is the last recruit. An old school friend of the King, he’s chosen because his outlook is expected to help solve a problem. Jack is a flawed hero, as the best heroes often are. He’s trapped by his (requited) love for the King’s fiancée. He also has nothing to go back for, his attempt at a theatrical production company has just failed at he’s at a personal low.
Swept up in events Jack moves from modern day to mediaeval and from there we join him in discovering the new Kingdom on the Edge of Reality. Sadly for Jack’s friends this leads to a political thriller with more than a dash of warfare thrown in. The resolution is edgy and bloody. One wonders which of the possible paths it will end on, and I recommend that you read it yourself to fund out.
Secondly it appealed to the historical re-enactor in me. I’ve dressed up in old fashioned clothes for most of a couple of decades and socialised with a lot of similar people. I’ve seen the range of interest from immersion to casual approximation of history. Personally I couldn’t go live in a pseudo mediaeval world, I just like visiting the past. I’m more like an uncle than a parent in this regard.
However what struck me was the very well observed human behaviour in this situation. It was also combined with an American fascination with feudalism, I’ve noticed over the years that many Americans appear more royalist than even enthusiastic British people. It must be a novelty thing.
Spoilers aside the behaviour seemed spot on. The social fabric coalesced in the same way reenactment groups are want to. With certain people factionalising and others happy to just go with the flow. There was also a difference in character in how the ‘commoners’ behaved depending on which of the main nobles they lived under. In a land with no laws the people do exactly what the boss will tolerate and nothing more. Why risk punishment for being wrong if you can just ask for direction? There is a wonderful bit where the lady of the house is approached to select the chicken for dinner, and she is unable to issue an appropriate directive. Eventually she has to go in person and point at one.
On another level I enjoyed the craft that had gone into this novel. I could see the classic pieces of the hero’s journey unfolding and enjoyed identifying the archetypes. This enhanced the story for me, and there were a number of twists built in, making it a rough scaffold rather than a railroad. The characters were interesting too, the main ones were multifaceted and had more to them than initially met the eye, but only enough detail for the story to unfold. The story read easily.
Reading this story, and the subsequent interview with the author, gave me the strong impression that this was a labour of love. It has resulted in an interesting and very readable work of literary fiction.