Book Review: The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated, by Gerald Morris

April 11, 2012 at 5:15 pm (Book Reviews) (, , , , , )

At his christening, Balin is proclaimed as the victim of a heavy prophecy: he shall be known as the noblest knight in England! But- he’ll bring misfortune wherever he goes, bring down two kingdoms in a single day, strike the Dolorous Stroke, and in the end, destroy the knight he loves most in the world. His mother just hopes he’ll marry a nice northern girl. As he gets older and starts his adventures, he seems doomed to fulfill this prophecy, but is there a way to escape his fate?

I love Gerald Morris. I have been reading his books since I can’t even remember when. I checked them out almost every time I was at the library and read them again and again and again. They made the Arthurian tales come alive for me, and more than that, they made the idea of retellings stick in my head and lodge there in a very satisfactory way. I was incredibly saddened when the Squire’s Tale series started drawing to a close- sad, but also content, because everything was as it needed to be. So when I head rumor of a series of Arthurian retellings for a younger audience, I was intrigued.

And they’re just as wonderful.

Like the other installments (none of which have to be read in the order in which they’re written) this book is laugh out loud funny, with a keen sense of absurdity and a Shakespearean delight in highlighting the ridiculous. And the humor isn’t just for kids- adults can fully appreciate the sly, understated wit in the repartee, even as kids giggle over the accidental happenings. They’re easy stories but they’re not dumbed down, perfect for any child who’s ever loved knights and damsels-not-in-any-distress-thank-you-very-much.

The illustrations are perfectly pitched, a little cartoony but not distracting. They help to break up the page for newer or reluctant readers, but there aren’t so many that they overshadow the text and the story in any way. This is a perfect book to read aloud with kids. What’s more, they’ll learn scads of fun words without even realizing they’re improving their vocabulary.

There are fabulous lessons in each of the Knights’ Tales books, but they’re not presented as morals. There isn’t a big block of bold print somewhere near the end saying “HEY LOOK AT THIS THING I AM TEACHING YOU”. They’re presented with the same tongue-in-cheek widsom as all the other accolades and foibles the characters present. Everything Sir Balin does seems to fit perfectly within the bounds of the prophecy, so that even when he deliberately sets out to obfusticate it, he still seems to be fulfilling it. But as his mother, his brother, and the adventurous Lady Annalise remind him, prophecies are just words. Ultimately, his life and his choices are his own, to do with as he will. It’s foolish to let a few words by a raving old woman make you scared to live your life. But, as with any wisdom that’s granted rather than earned, it takes time for him to appreciate the truth of their sentiments.

These books are a fabulous addition to any home or classroom library, and for more advanced readers, be sure to check out The Squire’s Tale, the first book of his older readers series.

Until next time~

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