What's the highest compliment I can give a novel? That it's unlike anything I've read. And upon Michael J. Bowler's urban fantasy CHILDREN OF THE KNIGHT, I gladly bestow that distinction. He takes the framework of Camelot and morphs it into something wholly original and cutting edge. King Arthur is back with a vengeance, but his knights are the ones who end up stealing the show.
So often novels focus on one or two main characters, forsaking the rest as talking heads or blatant stereotypes. Not so here. Bowler takes great pains to humanize his supporting cast. They're not all good and they're not all bad. They come across as real because their individual personalities are so complex, like they're drawn from actual teens that Bowler has come in contact with. They use the language of the street. They bait each other mercilessly. But across the board, all they want is to be loved.
Arthur's knights are throwaway teens, the kids nobody wants. And that designation is most tellingly applied to the gay characters in the novel. It's rare to come across a story aimed at a male audience that has more than one LBGT storyline, and this book has several, giving a more complete picture of an oft-ignored demographic in young adult fiction.
Lance is the hero around which the action pivots. Nicknamed 'Pretty Boy' because of his effeminate looks, not many authors would have given such a character the heartthrob role. But Bowler takes a chance, breaking through the overdone Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot drama and fashioning something completely different by having such a key figure question his sexuality.
Bowler turns the idea of a love triangle on its head by introducing Mark and Jack as Lance's fellow knights. All three provide a unique perspective on what it's like to grow up gay in America. Lance isn't ready to embrace who he is, but Mark and Jack are willing to accept the consequences of who they are. When Arthur brings the three boys together, they spend a lot of time in each other's company and things inevitably get complicated. Signals get crossed. Feelings get hurt. And two of them meet a bitter end. No matter the era, love in Arthur's court is always a dangerous game.