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Sunday, December 27, 2009

review: The Last Knight by Hilari Bell

Knight and Rogue #1:
The Last Knight
by Hilari Bell

Need a Hero? You've got one in Sir Michael Sevenson.
Although there hasn't been a knight errant in over two hundred years, this young noble has decided to revive the trade. He's found himself a reluctant partner in Fisk, a clever rogue who has been given the choice of serving as Michael's squire or going to jail for a very long time. Now Michael and Fisk are on a quest to right wrongs, protect the innocent, and make the world a happier place.
It's not going to be easy. On their first attempt at rescuing a damsel in distress, they break a lady out of a tower, only to discover she was there for good reason: awaiting trial for poisoning her husband. Now the would-be heroes must find Lady Ceciel and return her to justice or be condemned themselves.

young adult fiction ; fantasy { genre
PG for mild violence { rating
September 1, 2007 { first released
Eos paperback (368 pages) { review edition
bought at discounted price { acquisition ; ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I found this book quite by surprise in the teen section of a relatively small Indigo store. The cover was pretty generic, though the two moons and the "Knight and Rogue" line got me to look into it more. I'm a reluctant fan of the BBC Merlin tv show, and this premise sounded rather similar, with an unwilling servant following a kind of dense knight/prince, eventually cultivating a trusting friendship.
The title is kind of generic (even though the font is pretty), but it makes sense in the context of the plot. The dark cover doesn't really fit with the friendship theme of the book that well either. They should have kept the two moons and put in a picture of Michael and Fisk instead of the non-existent magical sword. I love the series title though.

First Lines
Fisk: To say it was a dark and stormy night would be a gross understatement. It was colder than a witch's kiss, wetter than a spring swamp, and blacker than a tax collector's heart. A sane man would have been curled up in front of a fire, with a cup of mulled wine and a good boo--, ah, a willing wench. But not me. I was out in it. I'm squire to a hero.

Overall Rating

I was in quite a rush to finish this book because I had bought it with the intent of gifting it to my friend the next day but instead, I became quite captivated by it myself. The mythology and world building is imaginative and original, combining a medieval setting with a unique blend of magic and quite "modern" characters who believe valiant knighthood is outdated. The character voices are distinct and sympathetic, alternating every chapter between the cynical but good-hearted "rogue" Fisk and the stupidly honest but well-meaning "knight" Sir Michael. However, they are not at all stagnant in their traits: Fisk learns to trust and sacrifice, while Michael learns to lie and manipulate. Side characters are also given depth and acknowledged as independent beings with their own character traits and personalities. The story itself was full of both plot and character twists, and it keeps you guessing as to who the real villains are and who is in league with who until the very end. This is one of those books where I would go and buy my own copy later because I enjoyed it that much.

review posted to AmazonCA, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari


In Bell's pseudo-medieval world, knighthood is considered foolish and suspicious, hence Michael being the "last" knight. He is ridiculed for his self-proclaimed title wherever he goes, to the extent that Fisk, the small-time criminal, fits in better than he does. There are still some values of honour and loyalty among the people, but the system is widely based on bribery and corruption.
A most unique part of the story's mythology are the two moons: a Green Moon for the Green God, and a Creature Moon for the Furred God. The latter is a special god just for the animals, that seeks vengeance for animals killed without proper sacrifice/repayment in return. I love that the author also pays close attention to the fact that nature is without sympathy, and that animals do not think on the same level as humans. Then there are the magica (magically enhanced animals/plants) and the Gifted (humans with the ability to sense or enhance special skills such as reading people or mixing herbs).
Each of these facets of the world are explored, but Bell does not let exposition overshadow the plotline, as many other introductory books do. While Michael and Fisk travel around for clues to the murderess' whereabouts, they hit dead ends and obstacles rather than just progress from one clue to another. More often than not they get beat up and thrown in jail or captured or even sabotaged by magical animals. Since Michael and Fisk had not been working together for long, these life-and-death experiences helps in them getting to know each other and accepting each other's quirks.


Far from being the symbol of a valiant hero, Michael has had to work multiple side jobs to support his lame but beloved horse and himself on their quest. Even as he appears eternally cheerful and accepting of the others' ridicule, his narration tells of his eagerness to escape his restraining role as fourth son to a powerful baron. He pursues knighthood for the freedom of adventure and independence, but he is not irresponsible or blind to the needs of others around him. He can fight, but only in the sense that he has some strength and speed. He is intelligent, but no one acknowledges it because they never see past the foolish title of "knight errant".
Fisk is a person who values self-preservation very much and doesn't much believe in friendship. Even after being forced to be Michael's "squire", he acts on his own bribing for information and swiping Michael's money bag when he's not paying attention. However, Fisk is also rather reluctantly sympathetic and kind. Even though he's constantly talking about leaving Michael to die, he never actually does. Fisk's past is also rather complicated and vague, though we get a sense that he's had some kind of higher education in the past.
These two play off each other as readers would expect: Fisk always scheming to get out of being indebted to Michael and Michael dragging Fisk along in his "knightly" quest. To Michael, Fisk is one of his only friends. He doesn't want Fisk's debt to him as the only reason Fisk is staying, so he's constantly waiting for Fisk to finally trust him as a friend and angry when he still doesn't. Fisk on the other hand has been taught to never trust. It's less that he thinks Michael is not trustworthy as he's not willing to get dragged down by other people. Their views of each other remain rather unstable throughout most of the book, each unsure if the other will abandon them when danger arises.


Since I found this in the teen section, I won't be overly critical about the reading level. The writing is simple and clear, with fast pacing that was perfect for the many sudden occurrences and twists. Fisk and Michael's narrations are differentiated with their speech patterns; Michael speaks with a nobleman's "accent", using "twas" and other tw- words, but it's not overdone to the point of annoyance and seems to flow with his character of "properness". With the separate narration, Bell is also able to build suspense when the characters are separated, especially towards the end where one character is in grave danger and the other is missing. I was a little disappointed that the author didn't play around with big misunderstandings of events between the two perspectives more though. The first-person POV also allowed for us to see the characters' emotional development and their thoughts about each other as they slowly became friends. I loved how Fisk started thinking about and talking to Michael differently when he rather unconsciously accepted him as his friend.


The tone of the story transitioned rather smoothly from a generally carefree yay!quest feel to a more sombre and dark one for the last quarter of the book. It was quite unexpected and worked very well to build up suspense and urgency even though there was no typical "final battle". It isn't until the last chapter that we get the "full story" of Lady Ceceil, but the author managed to tie up most of the mysteries presented.
The end is not quite a cliffhanger, though it is a "new beginning", where Michael's character is heading in a new direction of growth, and Fisk has finally accepted to be his friend. The sequel will probably most appeal to people who want to find out more about Fisk's past (which is the focus, incidentally, of book 2), or to see more of Michael and Fisk on a new quest and settling into their new friendship.

Knight and Rogue Series
#1 The Last Knight (2007)
#2 Rogue's Home (2008)
#3 Player's Ruse (2010)

Reading Challenges
What's In a Name? Challenge 2009 → Profession
1st in Series Challenge 2009 → Knight and Rogue Series

Meme Features
In My Mailbox: 2009/12/27 (as gift)
In My Mailbox: 2010/01/10 (personal copy)
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Theo said...

I couldn't have summarized the book any better. I'm glad someone on the face of the earth besides me has read this book and/or seen BBC's show Merlin. It seems no one has at times.