Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Dragon King - Nils Johnson-Shelton

Summary:  The exhilarating final book in the Otherworld Chronicles trilogy, whichSchool Library Journal called "a surefire hit with the legions of Rick Riordan fans."

Artie Kingfisher, his sister, Kay, and the New Knights of the Round Table have finally reached the legendary isle of Avalon. But before Artie can take his place as King Arthur reborn, he must recover nothing less than the mythical Holy Grail. And as the greatest battle of his life looms, Artie finds himself facing off against the one person he never dreamed he'd be fighting.

In The Dragon King, Artie's life-changing quest comes to a spectacular close as the young king discovers what it truly means to be a hero. Rich in mythology and bursting with twenty-first-century fun, this high-spirited spin on Arthurian legend is perfect for middle grade fans of Percy Jackson, the Alex Rider Chronicles, and House of Secrets.   (Summary and image from goodreads.com.  I was provided a copy of the book at no cost in exchange for my opinion.) 

My Review:  Spoilers.  Warning.  There will be SPOILERS.  I can't write a real review of this book without SPOILERS.  (Granted, these are spoilers only if you haven't read the first two, reviewed here and here.  If you're caught up, no worries.)

Did I mention the spoilers?  

Oh, my goodness, Merlin!?  I don't think I've ever been so grateful I had a whole series to devour at once, because an evil Merlin?!  I've got to quote Junie B.  Wowie, wow wow!  I was flabbergasted that Johnson-Shelton went there, but to have Merlin's parentage (his father was a demon in most legends, hence his amazing power) actually brought to the forefront of the series and the way that the author handled it was amazing. 

I am a sucker for a good retelling, and the approach that Johnson-Shelton took to the whole Arthurian legend has been a pleasant surprise from the start.  This book, the final book in the series, was an amazing story full of betrayal, amazing quests, redemption, and sacrifice - both of a personal and a collective nature.  Again, it's darker than its predecessors, but it never felt unnecessarily so.   I found myself on the edge of my seat during the final battle scene - Artie and his knights were faced with so many daunting challenges and it highlighted their nobility well.

Even more, I loved the strength that Artie's father and Qwon's mother leant to the group.  There is a disturbing trent in YA/Children's novels that the parents are either mindless automatons or doofuses in order to provide a contrast for the brilliant and amazing protagonists.  Parents aren't the main characters here, but Johnson-Shelton has done an incredible job writing supportive, strong, and loving parental figures in this series.

However, the final resolution - that last chapter - felt so harried and rushed that it didn't ring true.  I had to keep reminding myself that this is a children's series, and they probably don't want lingering conflict (um, I mean room for growth), but it very much felt like "And then they won and everything was magically perfect and nothing went wrong ever again, hooray!", and it just didn't ring true to me.  But up to that point?  Masterfully written.

My Rating:  3.75 stars.  Would have been 4.5, but for that last chapter.

For the Sensitive Reader:  Merlin enslaves children through the playing of video games and uses them as soldiers.  None are harmed, but the principle was creepy.  Again, battle scenes and some pretty heart-breaking deaths (of both humans and dragons).

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