Saturday, September 13, 2008

Book Review: "Avalon High" by Meg Cabot

By the time I got to the end of this book, I had only one comment.

"Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

Either I missed the point here, or Meg Cabot did. "Avalon High" starts off with a very transparent intent to rewrite the King Arthur stories in a contemporary high school context. Fair enough - if you can pull that off, you demonstrate that there's a human core to the myths that still holds up today (ie: the love triangle, Arthur's burdens, etc.). Cabot doesn't even try to hide what she's doing, what with the constant references to Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" and giving her characters names like Jennifer and Lance (gee, I wonder who they represent). To be honest, it's a little too obvious for my tastes, especially considering Cabot's cast are shallow stereotypes: Arthur/Will is the pure-hearted, universally-adored and blindingly beautiful golden boy, Lance is the hulking, monosyllabic best friend, Jennifer is head cheerleader and Queen of Popularity. And, of course, the first-person protagonist Ellie is an outsider who's just moved to town and falls in love with the aforementioned golden boy. I don't know, is there a point where something goes so far beyond cliche that it's original again? Like "it's so bad it's good"? If so, I don't think Cabot got that far.

But, okay, even taking all that into account, the story still works at this point. Then, about halfway through the book, Things Get Seriously Weird. It turns out the characters are literally reincarnations of the Camelot crew, and they've been repeating the same patterns over and over throughout the centuries, while Merlin keeps trying (and failing) to save Arthur from the unnamed Forces of Darkness that constantly kill him before he... saves the world, or something. It's not very clear. Everything pretty much goes sideways at that point and never really recovers. And the ending is surprisingly anticlimactic - I say "surprisingly" because it's the first time I've ever read a take on Arthur that didn't at least try for a big finish. The whole thing just goes flat. Flatter, I guess, since it doesn't manage to break the mold in the first place.

It might be that I'm not the target audience for this one; I'm guessing younger readers would be much more comfortable with the standard high school formula. I went into this hoping for a bit more than that, and I didn't get it.