Category Archives: ** Low Recommend

Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword of Avalon by Diana L. Paxson

Roc, 2009     ISBN: 9780451462923

Paxson envisions here the circumstances of the creation of the sword, Excalibur, which will later come into play in the King Arthur legends. Based on archaeological evidence of technology, she sets the time period in the latter part of the Bronze Age / into the beginning of the Iron Age when iron-smithing was a technological possibility.

The tribes of the British Isles are descending into war with each other as the climate is increasingly hostile and food becomes scarce. What is needed, believes Anderle, the current Lady of Avalon, is a King to lead the tribes back into unity. She believes this to be the destiny of the infant Mikantor, who she rescues from the fiery destruction of his tribe by that of a marauding band of renegades.

She does what she can to keep his existence hidden, but ultimately, the boy’s enemies realize that he is living. When he is finally captured, his life is spared when his captors sell him into slavery instead of killing them as they have been ordered to do.

Mikantor then spends some years in the Mediterranean, as the slave, and then companion and friend of Velantos, the smith of the soon to fall City-State of Tiryns. Mikantor learns the art of weaponry, and together with Velantos, who has had a vision that he is to forge a sword to be wielded by a mighty king, returns to the British Isles to take up his destiny.

Paxson’s character development does not live up to that of Zimmer Bradley’s, and the episodic, plot-driven story ultimately falls short of expectations, providing a quick read that doesn’t have a lasting impact, although teens may be satisfied with the action of the story.

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Magic and Misery by Peter Marino

Holiday House, 2009     ISBN: 9780823421336

Another stereotypical teen novel in which the girl (Toni Jo), has a crush on the guy (Pan, short for Pansy–yes really), only to find out he is gay. Stuck together in their miserable little town where nothing’s happening, they swear best friendship and loyalty to each other, only to have it shaken when teen jock, Caspar, falls for Toni Jo.

Pan acts like a jealous boyfriend, and Toni Jo lies to both boys, alienating each of them: not telling Pan when she has a date with Caspar, and not telling Caspar that the reason she can’t go to the prom with him is that she already promised to go with Pan.

Meanwhile, Pan is the victim of increasing harassment from two classmates, and refuses to complain to school authorities. Nothing Amy can say will convince him to report the abuse, and ultimately, he and his family decide they need to move out of the area.

While there is nothing glaringly wrong with this book, it isn’t a strong title. None of the characters is well-developed, and the dialogue is occasionally wooden. Caspar is consistently portrayed as somewhat slow on the draw, and it isn’t clear what Toni Jo sees in him beyond the fact that she’s desperate for male attention.  And Pan’s jealous behavior comes close to being the frightening sort which parents ought to be warning their daughters against.

Marino is a playwright and has published a previous novel that was well-received.

Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd

David Fickling Books, October, 2009.      ISBN: 0375849718. $17.99

When fourteen-year-old Holly finds out that her caseworker, Miko, at the group home is leaving, she retreats even more into her fantasies about making her way back to Ireland from England and being reunited with her mum who fled an abusive boyfriend, leaving Holly behind.

She reluctantly agrees to try a foster placement since without her caseworker, she doesn’t feel strong ties to the group home, but she resists Fiona and Ray’s middle class life, and kindnesses, and ultimately runs away, planning to find her mother somewhere, somehow in Ireland. She disguises herself in a blond wig of Fiona’s that she finds, and sets off with some money of her own, and some more she lifts from Ray’s pockets, and a very few belongings.

On the road she soon finds her money won’t take her far, and she resorts to begging, stealing, hitch-hiking, and stowing away on a train, and then a ferry to Ireland. Unfortunately, as she gets closer and closer to Ireland, her memories about her mum become more and more clear, and she is forced to finally the reality of her situation.

While this book got a number of good reviews, I felt that the interesting premise is bogged down by slow story telling, and not a lot of action.