The Book Knights

The Book Knights was written by J.G. McKenney and first published in 2017. It is a fantasy novel that draws its inspiration from Arthurian legends, set in a dystopian city where reading is illegal. The novel reads as though it is part of a series, though at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Arti Penderhagen’s life is turned upside down when her parents are arrested for the crime of reading and her home is burned to the ground. As she flees for safety, she is taken in by a young pick-pocket called Gal Hadd and offers to teach the orphan how to read in exchange for advice on how to survive on the streets.

Yet Gal’s tips may not be enough to protect Arti. Morgan Le Fay, the CEO of the city, has reason to believe that Arti has the power to thwart her plans to take absolute to control over everything. She sends her chief of police – Mordred – to scour the city for any trace of Arti, and to capture her by any means necessary.

Yet Arti soon finds allies in strange places. When she encounters an elderly librarian named Merl and reads a passage in a book that no one else can see, she learns that she is the one destined to use the magical pen Excalibri to write a better future for the world. However, to do so she needs to get her hands on the legendary Grail Tome, an ancient book in the possession of Morgan Le Fay…

Before I begin, a brief word of warning. While The Book Knights is largely suitable for young teen readers, it does have a couple of violent scenes which sensitive readers may find distressing. These include one particularly vicious sequence of a young girl being beaten up by an adult man. If you’re planning to gift this book to a young reader, you might want to have a flip through it yourself first.

The Book Knights is a wonderfully original take on Arthurian Legend, reimagining several of the most popular characters in a dystopian setting. It is a world where words carry incredible power and Mordred’s enforcers hunt down all those who can read to destroy their books. There isn’t a whole lot of resistance to this. As one of the few scribes left in existence, Morgan Le Fay uses her literary power to produce propaganda that keeps everyone illiterate and complacent.

As you might be able to tell, it is not a straight retelling of any Arthurian legend but instead takes some interesting liberties with the source material. Camelot has been transformed into a used car dealership (the Camel Lot), Excalibur is a pen and the round table is simply the breakfast nook of Merl’s motor-home. Personally, I really loved this. It was a take on the old stories that I’d never see before and this made it feel refreshingly different.

However, for all its creativity, The Book Knights has its share of problems. The novel isn’t very descriptive and this can sometimes make events a little hard to follow. The lay of the land isn’t always clear, such as how far away Morgan’s castle is from the Camel Lot, and the magic system was incredibly vague in places. As far as I can tell, the Grail Tome had two different chapters that allowed the reader to access magical abilities. I could understand how Lance’s use of the Verses – spoken poetry – could augment his physical prowess, but the magic that Merl performs while reading the Meditations is a lot vaguer.

The story is also rather clumsy in its execution. There is a lot of exposition as the author frequently takes the reader out of the action into order to explain exactly what the characters are feeling. The third person narrative even harks back to events that have already been shown. In a book this short, this felt especially unnecessary. Readers aren’t stupid and don’t need to be reminded of things that occurred thirty pages before.

While The Book Knights is action-packed and certainly kept my attention throughout, I was left rather disappointed by its ending. It just wrapped everything up too quickly, allowing the protagonists to have a very abrupt happy ending while only giving the vaguest hint as to the fate of the villains. The fact that Arti never actually meets Morgan in person felt especially weak, as it meant that the two opposing forces were oddly disconnected. Yet, the epilogue does leave things a little open ended so perhaps there will be a chance for them to face off in the sequel.

In terms of characterisation, the book is a bit varied. Each of the Knights have a very good reason for wanting to defeat Morgan, ranging from Arti’s desire to rescue her parents to Gwen’s hope that the books can be saved. Each of the characters had a role to play within the climax, even if some of these were off page. I also appreciated the fact that McKenney gender-flipped Arthur and Galahad (Arti and Gal) as this added a bit of diversity to the Knights of the Round Table.

However, the development of the characters wasn’t great. Gwen probably fared the worst from this as she never got a chance to confront her family. Her relationship with Lance is also abrupt, seemingly shoehorned in to ensure that Guinevere and Lancelot wound up together. Similarly, I expected Merl to have more chance to interact with his estranged family. This was a plot thread that felt as though it should be important, yet ultimately had little impact on the story.

The villains were also a bit shallow. Morgan doesn’t have much motivation beyond her desire to take over the world, while Mordred is little more than a violent bully. It would have been nice to give them some kind of depth and motivation beyond this, as they were unfortunately a bit flat and forgettable.

Anyhow, I think that’s about all I have to say. The Book Knights had a really imaginative concept but I did have some issues in its execution. Still, I would be curious to read more of this series in the future to see what adventures Arti and her knights will have next.

The Book Knights can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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