SFF/ YA Book Review: The Book Knights by J.G. McKenney

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I’ve been a fan of Arthurian legends for as long as I can remember. Whether it was analysing Sir Gawain And The Green Knight for an exam, rereading The Once and Future King by T.H. White or binge watching Merlin, reimaginings of these tales and recreating the characters of Merlin, King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere and of course, the notorious Morgana Le Fae always excite me, and I was quite glad of the opportunity to read and  review The Book Knights- a YA Arthurian fantasy- by J.G. McKenney the award winning writer of Eon’s Door. And to cut a long answer short, it was mostly fun and interesting read.

Perhaps, not one of the best blurbs ever written, but this certainly intrigued me:

“When her parents are condemned to death by Morgan Fay for the crime of reading, Arti Penderhagen becomes a fugitive. Hunted by Mordred, the sadistic police captain who recites poetry to enhance his physical strength, Arti escapes to the Isle of Avalon, a sanctuary for outlaws. There she meets an old librarian named Merl who tells her about the Grail Tome, an ancient book in Morgan Fay’s possession that can alter the course of history. Can Arti steal the book in time to save her family?”

Sure, the blurb tells you that this book has all the typical ingredients of a fantasy novel in place, but it doesn’t tell you that this novel features not one, but THREE female protagonists in leading roles. It doesn’t tell you that the author tackles some fairly innovative and even at times ludicrous ideas, and tackles them in a manner that feels plausible and entertaining. And it definitely doesn’t tell you that Morgan Fay is reincarnated as a vicious power-hungry CEO and represents the powers of technology and surveillance at their very worst.

Okay, so let’s talk about the good things first. The plot is fairly straight-forward, the characters are mostly believable and likeable and the language lucid enough for a comfortable reading experience. There’s some jokes thrown in, the action plays out smoothly and twists in the plot get resolved neatly.  I suppose what really struck me was the author’s ingenuity and this is definitely an unconventional novel that uses Arthurian source material to make a very important comment about today’s technology-driven society. Arthur is reimagined as Arti- a resourceful, compassionate girl who loves reading books and the sword-in-the-stone Excalibur is a magical pen. Similarly Guinevere is an attractive young model named Gwen and Lancelot’s white horse is a fancy car. In fact, spotting the little references here and there is pretty amusing.

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I also loved how the novel is deeply invested in the value of books as literary objects and the culture of reading around it. The author has imagined a dystopian world where reading is a crime and books are almost non-existent and people are glued to the screens of their “vidlinks” and the CEOs of capitalist conglomerates control the world (sounds familiar to our world, eh? ). Also the whole idea of using pens as swords is pretty magical, in fact quite Kabbalist even- showcasing the power of one’s intellect utilized in the right way to triumph against all evil. And there’s something really comforting and feel-good about how the power of reading and the stories that we love, return to help and guide us in times of need.

However, there are some downsides. The author has created a wondrous and easily-relatable universe but I’d have liked it more if the world-building was a bit more detailed and fleshed out. Perhaps a map explaining the layout of Morgan’s castle or the Isle or even the general world (is it a future version of our planet? if yes, where are the continents and the cities? are there other corporations trying to take control and looking for a chance to topple Morgan?) might have helped. Similarly, while I absolutely LOVE the fact that we have some strong-willed assertive female leads, I’d have liked to see their characters more developed and as more complex. Gal for instance seems really interesting- what about her past? Since it’s mentioned that she has “darker” skin, is she a person of color and if yes, how does she negotiate her place in the world? The romance between Gwen and Lance appeared stilted and Morgan Fay needed more complexity and a better backstory to come across as a compelling villain instead of being the “general baddie” who must be vanquished.

Nevertheless, the epilogue looked certainly promising and there’s plenty of material to build on and explore in the sequels, (if the author chooses to write one) particularly with regard to gender and race. The novel’s strength lies in its ingenious premise, simple plot and its cast of likeable characters and I’d definitely recommend it to kids and teens looking for a fun, comfort-read to pass the time.

Best for: Kids and Teens (older readers may enjoy it but might find certain sections too simplified, predictable or stilted)

Rating: 3.5/5

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You can purchase the book from Amazon and check out the writer’s Goodreads profile and website.

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I’m always open to reviewing books of poetry or in the genres of YA, fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism, speculative fiction and graphic novels as well as interviewing their authors, so if you want your book featured on my blog & promoted on my social media channels, do feel free to contact me.

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