Perhaps, as was I, you were unaware “There were two other tables in the Great Hall of Camelot” (3). One was the “Table of Errant Companions) oval and offering space to “young upstarts who aspired to the Round Table” (4); the other a lopsided rectangular affair far from the main action of the hall was the “Table of Less Valued Knights” (4), and Marie Phillips’ latest novel tells the story of one of those less valued knights,” one Sir Humphrey Du Val who hasn’t been on a quest in years but takes on the search for the kidnapped fiancé of Elaine of Tuft, a damsel distressed by the oldest and most urgent distress for any girl who gave her all to a lover who’s no longer around. Elaine and Sir Humphrey join forces with Queen Martha of Puddock who wishes to annul her marriage to an absolute .@#*%!! (you can supply the appropriate noun for yourself) and to find her brother who really ought to be King of Puddock but who has disappeared and is believed dead.
Their tale is an Arthurian romp through a realm that includes the locum for the Lady of the Lake—her real job is the Woman by the Well—giants who aren’t quite gigantic, an elephant called Jemima, and smiths who insist they never make black armour because they run “respectable forge[s]” (38), a dwarf Customs Agent and Border Guard, and, of course, an enchanted sword.
If you enjoyed Phillips’ first novel Gods Behaving Badly, you know what to expect. If this is your introduction to her work, then you are in for a hysterical few hours—you can’t really put this book down—it has to be read all at once. If you insist on looking for significance in this novel, you will find it. The Table of Less Valued Knights offers comic illumination of our own world especially when it comes to gender roles and expectations. This is not the world of Malory or Tennyson. It is the world of some moments from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the world of the comic romances and ballads. It’s the world of the ordinary people who just want to get on with it, who want to live good lives, who want to do the right thing, and who want to love the people they love and are finding it all something of a challenge, but they carry on.
Needless to say—this is comedy—things conclude eminently satisfactorily.