Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
This retelling is very much like those that I read growing up more than forty years ago. The language is rich, but not inaccessible. The story begins with Arthur as a young boy facing his father's enemy the evil Vortigern. Then his true destiny is revealed when he pulls the sword from the stone. Having given the sword to the archbishop, Arthur with the help of Merlin obtains Excalibur and the magic scabbard. Next he weds Guinevere and then the various adventures. But all is not well. Evil in the form of jealousy came between Arthur and his wife. His friendship with Lancelot ended and the fellowship of the Round Table began to disintegrate. The end comes all too soon for Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Full-color and black and white illustrations of varying sizes created by Ambrus effectively capture the world of King Arthur and his knights.
VOYA - Rebecca Barnhouse
Given the recent television mini-series Merlin, and a new animated film about the Grail quest, these two books are timely. Kerven's title, part of the Eyewitness Classic series, follows DK Publishing's usual format with sidebars of pictures and text supplementing the main text. The information, however, is confusing: although the introduction and the sidebars indicate Arthur's legendary status, the main text presents a story of King Arthur as if it were historical. Likewise confusing is the pastiche of pictures, ranging from medieval manuscript miniatures to Pre-Raphaelite paintings to twentieth century movie stills-and even to modern photographs (apparently taken for this book) of people dressed as Merlin or a lake spirit. Sometimes the pictures' sources are indicated, sometimes not. While these photographs are fun to look at, they fit uneasily with the main text and its watercolor illustrations of fifth-century Britain. The story of Arthur's life, divided into eight short chapters, is a conflation of episodes from several medieval tales beginning with the sword in the stone and ending with Arthur's removal to the Isle of Avalon after the last battle. It is as if the book cannot decide whether it wants to be a collection of facts or a storybook about the legendary King Arthur. Riordan, on the other hand, has definitely chosen a storybook format for his "retelling" of the life of Arthur from his boyhood with Merlin to his death in the final battle with Mordred. The language is formal and distant, as befits a legend, and lovely illustrations complement the text. Riordan, like Kerven, combines stories from several medieval sources such as chronicles and Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur. He discusses these sources in his notes and describes how he has altered them. For example, Arthur, not Gawain, becomes the central character in the story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In fact, the adventures in both of these books star Arthur and not his other knights. In that respect, both books differ from their medieval sources in which Arthur is often just a background figure while the focus is on his knights' deeds. Malory devotees might be disappointed in some of the details in both books, such as Mordred not being Arthur's son. But the Arthurian tales have been retold differently over the centuries, and these two books retell the story yet again in their own ways. Illus. Biblio. Source Notes. Further Reading. Note: This review was written and published to address two titles: King Arthur by Kerven and King Arthus by Riordan. VOYA Codes: 3Q 2P M (Readable without serious defects, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Riordan opens his Arthurian cycle with a confusing but exciting dream sequence and ends it with Arthur's second coming in some nebulous time "to restore glory to this once-great land." The tales in between tell of the dragons under Vortigern's castle, the sword in the stone, Excalibur, the Green Knight, Guinevere and Lancelot, Morgana and Mordred, war, death, and Avalon. The stories read well but don't always work together as the author forces the focus on Arthur. He makes Arthur the young seer at Vortigern's castle, and with such foresight, how could he marry Guinevere or leave the kingdom in Mordred's hands? Furthermore, in this adventure, Arthur announces he will be king, which takes some of the punch out of the sword in the stone episode. A reference to "football" is jarring and about five centuries too early. Riordan ignores the fact that Mordred is Arthur's misbegotten son. He gives Gawain's adventure with the Green Knight to Arthur, leaving in the knight's wife's attempted seduction of the king. Notes defending his choices cite Nennius's Historia Brittonum as his source for the dragon story, but Nennius called the boy-seer Ambrosius. Arthur appears later in that history. Even so, Riordan can write and Ambrus's dynamic ink-and-wash paintings and black-and-white illustrations bring the action to life. This is an Arthur to browse, enjoy, and take with a grain of salt.-Helen Gregory, Grosse Pointe Public Library, MI
From the Publisher
"Black-and-white pictures alternate with those brightened by brilliant watercolors... An interesting interpretation of the English lore."--Booklist
"Riordan's clear and powerful language and Ambrus' illustrations will raise goose pimples in this excellent retelling."--Yellow Brick Road
"The language is formal and distant, as befits a legend, and lovely illustrations complement the text."--VOYA
"A fascinating and magical rendition, fully supported by the dynamic and atmospheric pictures of Victor G. Ambrus."--The Commercial Appeal