Young Knights of the Round Table by Julia Golding is the first book in a series about the Arthurian legends made modern. It features a group of teenagers snatched from earth and raised in a fairy realm, who are sent back to earth to uncover a plot that sees the Round Table being reinvigorated and the world of the fey being under threat.
The story is quite gritty; teenager Rick, a human changeling, Roxy who is part pixie and Tiago, a half mage fey, live in Avalon, but in a kind of military training school/prison. They are trained to believe that humans are evil and that the people of earth cast them out, and are bent on destroying Avalon. Sent to earth to infiltrate the suspected Round Table plot, they are beamed to modern day Oxford, where they are supposed to ‘blend in’ with the humans by going to high school and doing the normal things teenagers do. This, after their time in military camp, proves to be more problematic than they imagine.
This clash of cultures/lives/realities is part of what provides some very welcome comic relief in the book, and which works as a well constructed foil against the more action driven/darker sequences in the book. It makes it more accessible to younger readers and I enjoyed this element very much.
The book, in theme anyway, reminds me of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series with regard to updating classical/ancient mythologies for a modern readership. I think this is an excellent idea and Riordan offers a masterclass in how to pull this off seamlessly. Sadly, for me, Golding’s books were not quite as flawless. The plot, in particular, had some gaping holes that meant that I found it rather hard to enjoy in places. I think, to be fair, child readers will simply blip over, or not notice these things in favour of the rollicking action sequences, humour and fast paced, adventurous style of writing, all of which are positive points in the book’s favour.
I did like very much the fact that the book was set in Oxford. It’s a great place to set books, as Philip Pullman has already amply demonstrated. The ancient buildings and the fairy tale quality of the architecture make it a fairly magical place, so adding extra magic always works well. I think I liked it so much because I lived there for five years myself and it was quite a nostalgia trip for me. It also made it much, much easier to visualise what was going on.
My eight year old and I actually met the author, Julia Golding, at an event put on for local schools. She was engaging and interesting, and the children were all given a copy of this first book to read. Oscar has enjoyed it, reading it alone. I read it next, and wonder how much of it he has truly understood, given that the langugage is quite sophisticated in parts (the parts that deal with alternative dimensions and nano-technology), and his knowledge of the Arthurian back story is pretty sketchy to say the least. To be fair, this would not be too much of a problem, as the author explains things reasonably clearly within the confines of the book. It does help however, make reading it a richer experience if you already have some knowledge of the stories she is drawing on.
We have been given the second book in the series, Pendragon, to read as part of the Amazon Vine review series, and he has not shown any interest in picking it up, so I wonder if it is perhaps a little too old for him.
As I say, the book is the first in a series, and it does end on a cliff hanger, so if you think this might be the book for you, or your children, you might do well to pick up the second volume alongside the first, as there is nothing more frustrating than having to wait to find out what happens if you’re really into a book.
I’d recommend it for confident readers, both boys and girls (I was pleased to see a really diverse and well balanced list of characters, and that the girls were not weedy or useless foils for the boys) aged 8 and up. It would be excellent for children already interested in mythology and legends, and as it has a certain nod to books like Artemis Fowl I would also recommend it if you’re interested in more updated fairy stories and lots of gadgets/magic/technology in your adventures.