Ratscalibur (Chronicles of the Low Realm, book one)
By Josh Lieb
Published 2015 by Razorbill
Joey is not thrilled with his move to the city. As a welcome gift, his Uncle Patrick gives him a rat. But when the old (and apparently magical and also dying) rat bites him, Joey is unprepared for the adventure that's about to come. Joey is about to become a rat himself - and the rats need him to save their kingdom.
I've mentioned before that animal fantasy is not really my thing. However, I've enjoyed several examples of the genre over the last couple of years, so maybe that's not really true anymore. Either way, when the e-galley of this came my way (via Penguin's Young Readers Author Program), I wanted to give it a shot.
This is basically a straight-up retelling of the Arthurian legend, but with creatures of the "low realm" - rats, cats, squirrels, and crows. I liked the playful riffs on the legend - Joey the Rat pulls the "spork from the scone" for example. I don't know if things like this will be lost on kids these days (do they still watch the old Disney Sword in the Stone?), but I appreciated them. The explanation of the magic is quite unusual, not really like anything I've seen before, and definitely interesting. There is plenty of action to keep readers engaged and the pacing is good. The chapters are short and there are many illustrations throughout, so this is probably a good choice for those who are struggling with longer chapter books.
Outside of the retelling aspect of this story, there isn't much to say. Joey never feels fully developed and neither do any of the secondary characters, which is disappointing. There isn't much added to the original legend, except for Joey's concern over what his mother is going through as he traverses through the low realm. The magic system is unique, but it really is little more than the story of Arthur with rats. That being said, animal fantasy never seems to lack fans, so I imagine this will do relatively well among its target audience. I'll be interested to see what the next volume will cover; I'll probably give it a shot.
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.