In this exciting middle grade fantasy debut, Jauregui, who works in visual effects on animated features, strikes the right balance between familiarity and novelty. The Arty of Arty and The Forest of the Forsaken is an Arthur, recently moved to the grand city of Camelot, where his father has found work as a blacksmith. There, Arty bands together with scrappy kids eager to become squires to knights. What they lack in noble pedigree, Arty and company (including Galahad, Gawain, Percy, and the bow expert Gwen) make up for in spirit, pledging themselves to the righteous protection of friends, family, and kingdom. The attitude of Camelot’s actual knights, meanwhile, is summed up by snobby squire Lance, who sneers at Arty, “Being a knight is about power, privilege, and nobility. Of which, you possess none.”
By the end, of course, Arty and friends will prove themselves, and a certain sword of legend might get yanked from its boulder. Jauregui’s quick, clever plot pits the heroes against a scheming wizard, a terrifying dragon, and sundry beasts of sea and forest. This Camelot lies in the fantasy playground of Atlium, alive with fairies, trolls and romantic settings for adventure, such as the Forsaken Forest, where Arty and friends face vivid (but not too scary) dangers. Older readers will enjoy the connections Jauregui draws between this unique vision of Arthurian legend and other myths.
Jauregui’s crisp, clear prose surges readers through his tale. He’s adept at quick sketches of character, offhandedly comic dialogue, and brisk, memorable action. Occasionally, when introducing the cast or laying out the scope of the world, Arty offers up a large lump of expository text; in other instances, the narrative occasionally bucks ahead too quickly for some emotional beats to resonante. Those minor pacing issues aside, though, this adventure will engross young readers and charm the adults who share it with them.
Takeaway: This playful take on Arthurian legend will delight middle grade fantasy fans.
Great for fans of: Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah and the End of Time, Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The False Prince.
Production grades Cover: A- Design and typography: A Illustrations: N/A Editing: A- Marketing copy: A
A boy in Camelot embarks on a dangerous journey to retrieve a magical weapon in this debut YA fantasy.
Having just arrived in the kingdom of Camelot, where his father has become a blacksmith, 12-year-old Arty is thrilled to see King Uther Pendragon’s knights practicing in the arena. Though not of noble caste, Arty is determined to become a knight one day. He soon makes friends with other boys (as well as Guinevere, or Gwen) who share his ambition; a natural leader, Arty organizes training sessions for his crew and sets up a round table for planning strategy. When a fearsome dragon attacks Camelot, Sir Marcus Junius Brutus proves himself an impressive champion whom Arty hero-worships. Before long, though, Brutus morphs into his true form, the evil wizard Merlin, and claims Camelot’s throne. Breaking the orb on Merlin’s staff can defeat him but can only be done with an ancient magical weapon in an older witch’s keeping. Arty rallies his “small ragtag band of misfit knights” to brave the perilous Forest of the Forsaken on a quest that will test him in three difficult trials and reveal the truth of his birth. In his book, Jauregui pairs his legendary setting with contemporary dialogue (such as “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, Percy”) and characterization. It’s a technique familiar from animated films like Disney’s Frozen (2013) but less common in novels, possibly jarring some readers. That said, the author deftly weaves traditional and unexpected elements together, as with scenes in the Lady of the Lake’s elaborate underwater palace. Several cinematically vivid, well-orchestrated action sequences also enliven the story, including a joust; attacks by creatures like death phantoms and lizard warriors; and a hammer-and-tongs battle with Merlin.
An entertaining, action-packed retelling of Arthurian legend.