A Tail of Camelot (Mice of the Round Table #1)
Release Date: October 4, 2015
Synopsis on Goodreads:
Young mouse Calib Christopher dreams of the day when he will become a Knight of Camelot like his father and grandfather before him. For generations, Calib’s family has lived among the mice that dwell beneath the human Knights of the Round Table, defending the castle they all call home. Calib just hopes he will be able to live up to the Christopher name.
Then, on the night of the annual Harvest Tournament, tragedy strikes. The mice suspect the Darklings are behind the vicious sneak attack, but Calib has his doubts, so he sets off on a quest for the truth. Venturing deep into the woods beyond the castle walls, Calib and his friend Cecily discover that a threat far greater than the Darklings is gathering, and human and animal knights alike are in grave danger.
With help from a host of unlikely new allies, including a young human boy named Galahad, Calib must get the Mice of the Round Table and the Darklings to put aside their differences and fight together. Only then will they be strong enough to save Camelot.
Maybe a 4.5. Slight spoilers in review.
At first glance, A TAIL OF CAMELOT by Julie Leung sounds like a cute MG novel – a retelling of King Arthur and Camelot set in the POV of small, anthropomorphic animals. While this is true, it turned out to be so much more – the rich detail and world-building reminded me of REDWALL and the in-depth characters and humour made me think of THE BLACKTHORN KEY. Leung wowed me with her debut novel – add her to your auto-buy list!
Leung really brings Camelot – the court of the legendary King Arthur – to life. I didn’t just imagine a castle with mice dressed in armour, I saw a court of dedicated knights (mice, larks, squirrels), I could taste the food (elderberry wine, soup served in hollowed-out acorns), and I could feel the setting (i.e. sea breeze). This retelling is set during King Arthur’s reign, and while there are similarities between the humans and the animals sworn to protect Camelot, Leung gives the main characters their own past, present and future. Something I absolutely loved, becoming a knight (for the animals) is not gender-specific (something we usually see in historical and/or fantasy books) and there’s no mention of “why is this character becoming a page/squire/knight, she’s a girl” nonsense. The Second-in-Command (and later Commander) is Sir Kensington, a female mouse. We did see a bit of this with the humans. King Arthur is away, so Queen Guinevere proposes a plan to defeat the enemy and the Knights of the Round Table basically refuse to listen to her. One might argue it’s because she didn’t have the sword in the stone – the knights will listen to anyone who pulls it out – but the fact that they’d rather listen to a 12 year old boy (age may be wrong) who’d pulled out the sword rather than an adult was slightly annoying and maybe even unnecessary.
Calib Christopher was a very likeable character, I could immediately get into his head. He’s one of those characters who’s shy, doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself and just needs that extra push to realize he is brave and smart. Calib being a likeable character didn’t make him stand out though, he felt a bit like an insert-yourself character, which I’m not the hugest fan of. This sort of character, while easily likeable, doesn’t completely challenge the reader.
Most of the chapters are in Calib’s POV but we also see the perspective of the humans. Told through a 12 year old boy, Galahad comes to Camelot to become a page or squire (can’t remember which). He’s the son of Sir Lancelot, who he’s never met, so there’s a lot of pressure and expectations on him. Galahad wasn’t my favourite character – he struck me as a bit of a stereotype. Luckily, chapters with Galahad were shorter than Calib’s, although it was funny to see how the humans reacted when they witnessed odd animal behaviour. I did like that Leung tries to balance out the male-dominated POV’s by introducing Cecily as a main character and someone who helps Calib save Camelot. She was a fun, bold character. Also, the names were the best thing ever and really helped with the world-building (ex. Sir Owen Onewhisker, Devrin Savortooth, General Gaius Thornfeather).
There are some underlying themes of prejudice and discrimination. In the beginning, the animals of Camelot and the Darklings (animals living in nearby woods) are enemies, despite the truce between them. Rumours surrounding the Darklings have basically taken on a life of its own. I loved that as the book progressed, Leung presents a different side to these animals. This isn’t too prominent, you really have to be looking for it, but it’s something that could be discussed more in the sequel. However, I would have liked to see the POV of the Saxons and weasels, and maybe less of the adding physical traits with negative connotations to the enemy i.e. rotten teeth.
While I found the plot a bit predictable, maybe because I’m familiar with this sort of archetype, MG readers will be delighted at the sort of plot twists Leung lays out for them. A TAIL OF CAMELOT is a must-have for MG readers and I cannot wait to read the sequel. Perfect for fans of REDWALL, this is a great book for introducing readers to historical fantasy and the myth of King Arthur and Camelot.