A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that there is a lot of rather extreme violence referred to in this fantasy adventure. Though not graphically described, there are many deaths by beheadings, a throat stabbing, and a disembowelment -- plus weapons and explosions. In addition, names of fast food restaurants, sodas, cars, and clothing labels are mentioned. But Alfred is a loveable loser who makes a pretty major mistake -- but then does work hard to correct his error (and, you know, save the world along the way). This could be a good choice for reluctant readers: This ain't made for English class, but rather to remind young teen boys how much fun reading can be -- and it does so admirably.
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What's the story?
Oversized, clumsy, luckless, untalented, unmotivated, slow-witted Alfred has not had it easy. His father disappeared when he was a baby, his mother died of cancer, and his guardian, Uncle Farrell, is a night watchman with big dreams and a small mind. When Farrell forces him to help steal a valuable sword, neither of them know that it is Excalibur, the most powerful weapon on earth -- or that their employer plans to use it to rule the world. Swept up into a world of international intrigue that combines black ops agents in attack helicopters with medieval knights who fight with swords but drive Ferraris and motorcycles, Alfred stumbles forward trying to fix what he has messed up, only to see nearly everyone around him get killed. But there are secrets within secrets, including why Alfred is involved in this at all.
Is it any good?
Though well-written, this book doesn't withstand literary, or even logical, scrutiny. There's been an interesting trend in kids' books in the last few years toward stories that are the literary equivalent of The Terminator movies -- well-made, cinematic, edgy, violent action-adventure thrillers that are just pure, ridiculous fun. This book is one of those. But that doesn't matter, because the story carries the reader along so rapidly, and with so much satisfaction and pleasure, that harping on its flaws seems positively curmudgeonly. This ain't made for English class; it's made to remind young teen boys how much fun reading can be -- and it does so admirably.
From its terrific opening hook to its obviously-this-is-going-to-be-a-series ending, this has what many young readers are looking for: a mystery, a bit of fantasy, humor, nonstop action, violence edgy enough to be cool and bug your parents, a nice array of weapons, cars, and planes, and, of course, a likable orphaned loser as the protagonist. Only at the climax does the author lose focus for an instant, making the resolution a bit fuzzy. Otherwise, this is high-quality escapism -- let's hope more is on the way.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the book's protagonist. Does he seem like your typical hero? What other sort of awkward, slow heroes have you read about or seen in movies? What's appealing about these characters?
What did you think of the violence here? This book includes deaths by beheading as well as a throat stabbing and a disembowelment. Does the rather fantastical premise make this gritty material easier to handle?
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