Reading: The Camelot Kids by Ben Zackheim

I don’t do very many blog tours – one a year, at the most. Because the lovely ladies at TLC Blog Tours always seem to send me an email in the beginning of every year with a title that catches my eye.

This time around, the title that caught my eye was The Camelot Kids by Ben Zackheim.

Camelot kids

I love the Arthurian legends, and anytime I come across a book about King Arthur and his knights, it goes straight to my TBR list. There are several Arthurian-based fantasies out there, and the ones I love best are those that are set in today’s world. So I simply couldn’t resist the The Camelot Kids.

Here’s the synopsis:

What would you do if an odd girl in a cloak told you, “You know you’re a descendant of King Arthur’s knight, Lancelot, right?” You’d probably do the same thing 14-year-old New Yorker Simon Sharp does. Back away nice and slow.

But Simon learns the truth when he’s kidnapped by a drunk troll, rescued by a 7-foot man named Merlin, and thrown into training with 149 other heirs of the Knights of the Round Table.

Can Simon survive a prophecy that predicts the world will be saved through its destruction? The Camelot Kids is about one boy’s struggle to make it to tomorrow in a world both real and fantastic.

My thoughts on Camelot Kids:

  • For a middle grade novel, this is a big book, weighing in at 506 pages. It’s a length that might put off some younger readers who aren’t used to longer books. It’s also quite a heavy book, too, physically.
  • The illustrations by Ian Greenlee are really really lovely. They both reflected and added to the images I had in my mind from reading Zackheim’s descriptions, which I feel is something all good children’s book illustrations should do.
  • I felt the book could have used more editing, especially in the first third. Not so much the copyediting, but rather the broader, overall editing, to tighten up scenes, make characters more consistent with their personalities, and clean up some other, general inconsistencies. For example, I found the scene between Digby and Simon in the nurse’s office didn’t match Digby’s character from earlier in the book; he didn’t seem the kind of man to say “if you touch my boy again, I’ll kill you myself.” And as an example of a general inconsistency, on page 170 of my copy, there’s a line that reads “He [Merlin] also does pro bono work, of course, because he’s a sucker for gold.” This type of inconsistency should have been caught by the editor, as the author obviously meant paying work, not pro bono work. And also, gold is prohibited in New Camelot, which is something that becomes an important plot point later in the novel, so where did Merlin stash this gold?
  • There was also too much smiling, winking and smirking. Again, something that should have been caught during the editing phase.
  • Despite the lapses in editing, there’s a great deal of story going on here that younger readers will likely enjoy. It’s a very interesting and original retelling of the Arthurian legends. And at the midpoint of the book (the end of chapter 23), I was really taken by surprise! I definitely didn’t see that one coming.
  • It was also at this point that I felt the story really found its legs and took off.
  • There’s much to like about the author’s worldbuilding when it comes to the town of New Camelot. I especially enjoyed the marketplace known as The Spell. And there are lots of delightful little instances of magic that are pure fun. Very inventive!
  • There’s also bits of humour injected into the prose here and there which made me smile.

And now for some thoughts which will have to be on the vague side because I don’t want to give away spoilers:

  • I loved what happens with Excalibur! But the story fails to expand on that, which was a great pity. I would have liked to have seen more made of the whole Excalibur thing.
  • I didn’t really feel the main villain of the piece (well, there were several villains, but I need to be ambiguous about this as it’s a huge spoiler) was credible in that role. I would have liked to have his character built up a bit more in previous scenes, so when we see him doing what he does, we think to ourselves, yes, I see it now. Too much of his motivation was given to us through telling rather than showing in a later chapter, which I thought detracted from the story.

The first half does lag – we get a lot of information during the first half, none of it in infodump format, thankfully, but while it is interesting, it isn’t of the page-turning, what happens next variety. The second half manages to do both (trust me, a lot goes on in the second half). I would have also liked the main villain to have been more credible in his/her/its role (keeping you in suspense here!). And more made of what finally happens with Excalibur. Overall, this is an original middle grade read that kids who like fantasy, especially of the Arthurian legend variety, will likely enjoy.

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