Review by Ian Keogh
The first surprise about Misfits of Avalon is that while the cover promises a fantasy series, it begins in a real world with real world domestic situations. Morgan has a father with alcohol problems, a troublesome relationship with her classmates and a generally surly attitude. Bunking off school, she didn’t expect to be accosted by a giant talking dog, told she has a destiny and given a mystical ring. Who would? Morgan’s mistake is actually putting the ring on, as it can’t then be removed until the mission of retrieving a legendary sword is completed. Turns out there’s another three rings up for grabs.
It’s the reality that differentiates Misfits of Avalon from other fantasy series. She may throw a lot of Celtic sounding terms about, but it saves much world building on Kel McDonald’s part. The sword Morgan, Elsie and two to be named at a later date have to recover is held on Earth, and is bonded with a traitor to Avalon. The sooner that’s sorted out, the better.
McDonald is a good cartoonist, good to the point where she can draw ordinary looking people in cartoon form rather than the more standard glamorised folk. She invests in those characters visually, and her artistic talent goes a long way to disguising that her story could do with an injection of pace. Several sequences run on several pages longer than necessary to no good purpose, an example being Elsie and Morgan’s bickering as they head into a gated community. What they’re doing isn’t captivating, and we’re already aware of their combative relationship.
Each of four chapters turns the narrative over to a different person, explaining who they are and grounding them in the problems they have. One of Misfits of Avalon’s better aspects is it not being just another fantasy about privileged white kids, and their problems are explored well, rounding the cast. The downside to that is three of the four have personalities not very distinct from each other, with combative being a default setting. The ring bearers not rubbing along too well may distract from the convenience of the menaces being a succession of giant transformed animals, and not much thought given as to why. It’s explained early that’s they’re magical intrusions, but however vicious it might be, a giant fish can’t do much harm when it’s confined to the local park’s fish pond.
That may not occur to the young adult readers, but McDonald certainly wants them having suspicions by the end regarding who the former King Arthur may now be. They’ll have to pick up The Ill-Made Guardian to have that speculation confirmed. There are some nice moments to Misfits of Avalon, and it built enough of an audience to be concluded in three volumes, but this opener never sparks into life as would be hoped. Don’t be put off. McDonald’s a quick learner, and the characters become far more nuanced.