Middle Grade Review: The Camelot Kids, Book One


Title: The Camelot Kids, Book One
Author: Ben Zackheim
Publisher: Ben Zackheim, 2014. 503 pages
Source: I won a paperback copy in a giveaway.

Publisher's Summary:
Here it is! The complete collection of The Camelot Kids Parts 1-4, with new illustrations and extra story.

The Camelot Kids is a series that tells the story of Simon Sharp, a 14-year-old orphan. Simon isn’t a normal teenager. He’s a kid on a mission. He's determined to find a place to belong.

If you ask him how his parents died, he'll tell you King Arthur killed them. They died looking for proof that Camelot is real.

An estranged uncle flies Simon to Scotland for room and board. The fourteen year old soon discovers someone wants him dead. But who cares about some outcast teenager from America?

When a grumpy, 3276 year old Merlin shows up to protect him, Simon finds that the answer is an epic adventure away.

Packed with surprises, The Camelot Kids is a fresh take on the beloved myth.

My Review:
First things first: I "met" the author through Goodreads, and have shared space with him in the Bookelves Anthology projects. I have also reviewed and totally loved his Shirley Link mysteries for middle-grade readers. That said, I was honestly thrilled to win the giveaway, and my review reflects my honest opinion.

I also want to note that I included the first line of the blurb above to clear up something that had me confused, a little. This book combines four books into one volume (and one continuous story, to be fair), which explains the high page count, as well. Now for the review:

I loved it. I'll confess to just a hint of trepidation as I went into this, because I've gotten kind of tired of the "ordinary kid discovers he's something else in a fantasy world" model (see Percy Jackson, for example). I think Ben nailed it. He certainly swept away my doubts in fairly short order, leaving me free to dive into the world of New Camelot and enjoy myself. 
Simon's world, both before and after he discovers New Camelot (or is dragged there, kicking and screaming), is vividly painted, with visuals that I found clear and compelling. Simon's challenges as an orphan are believable, with just a hint (in retrospect) that there is something more to him. And the characters he meets along the way have depth--often a great deal more depth than Simon imagines. 

The pacing is really nice--it's fast-moving, but the action isn't so non-stop that you get dizzy watching it. It's exciting, but I believe well within the bounds for elementary-aged children--the violence is less than in Percy Jackson, and though people die, the gore is kept to a minimum, and the reactions to their deaths feel genuine.

The book is impeccably edited, and the illustrations by Ian Greenlee are fascinating,  though at first I found them a little dark. They have a complexity that yields to study, though, so I think are a nice addition to the book.

I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

My Recommendation:
For kids from about 9 up, who like fantasy, and for anyone who loves the Arthurian legends. I have to confess that my own studies of the earliest stories--Mallory's Morte d'Artur and the Lays of Marie de France--are too long ago for me to offer much check on how the Ben used the material, and I never did read T.H. White's books. But this is a great addition, if readability and interest count!

FTC Disclosure: I won a copy of The Camelot Kids in a giveaway, and received nothing further from the writer or publisher for my honest review.  The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."    


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