So here’s to the first BookmarkedOne review in…practically forever!
Back in the summer, I was approached by Amy Bartelloni with a very polite request to review her book, The Children of Camelot. Little did she know this was the first solicited review on BookmarkedOne, and she pitched it perfectly:
- Free book.
- Has dragons.
- Arthurian retelling.
- I read your blog and I think you’ll like it.
At this point, what else did I really need to know?
Book: The Children of Camelot by Amy Bartelloni
Series: The Children of Camelot, no. 1
Genre: YA fantasy/Arthurian retelling
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Occasional mild language, plenty of magic to go around, fortunetelling, mild action, mild romance. Very appropriate for most middle grade-YA audiences.
BookmarkedOne Rating: 7/10
Official Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in return for the review. To say that free books do not positively influence my opinions would be a lie. To say that all opinions are my own is obvious, and to say that free books make me any less the little book snob I am would be ridiculous.
This isn’t the Camelot you know. It’s more like Jessica Day George’s Dragon Slippers meets The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede and they decide to have a King Arthur-themed D&D campaign and tea party.
In other words, Amy is taking the Camelot legends and making them her own. This isn’t a historically-grounded “What if?” This is her own creation.
And, for the record, King Arthur is a background character. The dragons are center stage.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start with the bad news first, because Amy is tough and I know she can handle it.
- It’s an independently published book. I know, I know, this shouldn’t be a con, but indie books hurt because even if they’re good, they almost never get the attention they deserve, and even at their best, the editors still leave a lot to be desired…like misspelling the protagonist’s name…twice. Ouch.
- It’s YA. My pet peeve and no one else’s, and for the record, I knew that going in. But I’d so often rather have a spunky MG fiction or the serious adult stuff.
- There’s not a lot of tension. Again, this might just be me, but the writing style is so relaxed that even when the characters were in danger (which was often enough!) I was never very worried. On the other hand, that makes it the perfect sort of book for a bedtime story–relaxing, just exciting enough, and with beautiful descriptions to make you beg for more even when your eyelids get heavy. I’m still stuck on Amy’s description of the dragon scales…
- It’s not the Roman-Celtic Arthurian setting we might demand of an adult fiction retelling. Nor is it the weird post-1066 Norman Frenchified court that Hollywood once pretended was accurate. It’s a world in which characters go to school and have teachers who wear glasses and who drink coffee in the mornings. That last one was especially hard to swallow.
- It’s a little like a D&D story. Dwarves, Elves, fairies, dragons, all rolled up and tied with a bow, and characters chanting “We’re going on a quest,” nearly from the beginning of the medieval-brick road, and then proceeding to walk/escape/run/stumble/boat/fly/explore for several pages. I couldn’t help feeling that a lot of the plot was dropped into the protagonist’s lap–x happens, so the characters react with y–but hey, we can’t all be military strategists. Victor Hugo made that very clear…
- The pace could be faster. But then again, I’m coming off of recently critiquing short stories where we barely stop for breath, so my perspective is a little skewed.
So now that we’ve got my curmudgeonly little madwoman-in-the-garret complaints out of the way, how did Amy Bartelloni win me over into a 7/10 book rating?
Was it the fluff romance and dragon riding?
Okay, fine. It was the fluff romance and dragon riding.
But can we just stop to talk about this for a minute? Because out of all the crazy, chaotic, turbo-charged sweat and passionfruit-scented world of YA books right now, we have a female protagonist and a romance without a love triangle.
…guys. Do you have any idea how long I’ve wanted this? Do you have any idea how rare it is to see a character in healthy, satisfying relationships from the beginning to the end of the story? What a relief–?
There are some lovely descriptions, too. Not just of the magical lights and the wind on the cliff (although for the record, that’s probably my favorite moment), but the whole world.
Do I really want a city built vertically into a rock face with caves below and cliffs above and a natural shield wall about?
Yes. It’s like the Dwarvish version of the Lothlorien tree houses. I love it. I want to go exploring. Who’s coming with me?
And we get to see the character grow. Arynn isn’t the same person at the end of the story that she was at the beginning. Even though she’s ordinary and likeable and struggles all the way through, we can see her throw her shoulders back a little more at the end instead of asking which way to go. It’s the sort of change that makes you wonder where she’s going to go as the series progresses…
And of course, this is still an Arthurian tale. Familiar faces (or at least names) abound. Merlin pops in for a chat, Tristan and Isolde are completely different characters (dare I say better? At least less tragic), my hero Gawain makes an appearance, and there are plenty of characters we’ve never met, unique and wonderful all on their own.
It’s not the King Arthur story you know. But then again, you know that one. It’ll be just where you left it when you’re ready to come back to the original Camelot again.
So why not read something completely different? Something with the same names, some of the same nobility whispering at its heart, but with a new challenge to make.
And now that you know about the book, join us for our first BookmarkedOne giveaway! Enter here for a chance to win your very own copy of The Children of Camelot, signed by Amy Bartelloni, or a 3-ebook bundle of the series!
Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Amy Bartelloni about all things Arthurian and her writing.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for other Arthurian retellings, check out my review of Camelot: A Collection of Original Arthurian Stories.