August 16, 2007


Avalon High. By Meg Cabot. HarperTeen. $8.99.

Avalon High: Coronation—Volume 1: The Merlin Prophecy. By Meg Cabot. Illustrated by Jinky Coronado. Tokyopop/HarperCollins. $7.99.

      So there’s this high school, okay? And it’s got the usual jocks and cheerleaders and good guys and bad guys, okay? But they’re not what they seem to be, okay? Because they’re, like, reincarnations of these really old characters from some kind of Middle Ages story? Only they don’t know it? But there’s this old professor who does know it? But nobody believes him? But maybe the new girl in school will? Because she’s a reincarnation, too? And if she doesn’t take her part, really bad things will happen? Like maybe the end of the world?

      Believe all of this, or at least a good part of it, and you have the fantasy world of Avalon High and its graphic-novel successor. It’s all wildly silly, but Arthurian legend is certainly a new angle for an author to take on the tried-and-true formula of high-school angst, romance, cliques and infighting. Meg Cabot puts nice-girl Ellie, newly arrived at Avalon High, at the center of all the intrigue in the original novel, published last year and now available in paperback. When not taking classes or running (she’s a track star), Ellie is piecing together bits of the mysteries that she seems to find down every hallway. At the center of most of them is Will, class president and all-around hottie, who has a really bad relationship with his parents because, as Ellie eventually learns, Will’s father sent his (the father’s) best friend into a war zone where he was killed, and then took the friend’s wife for himself. Spoils of war and all that. Oh, and dad now wants Will to go to the Naval Academy. “Maybe that’s why [Will] liked sitting around by himself in the woods, listening to medieval music, so much,” thinks Ellie. Yes, maybe that – and maybe the fact that he is the reincarnation of King Arthur has something to do with it: Arthur had family issues of his own, and the whole father-taking-friend’s-wife theme closely echoes the old legends.

      Still, the high-school setting for the plot is so absurd that only a writer as good as Meg Cabot can prevent it from constantly degenerating into ridiculousness. It still degenerates from time to time, but Cabot – best known for The Princess Diaries – has enough wit and a good enough sense of pacing to prevent that from happening all the time. By the end of the book, Ellie has Will as a boyfriend; he is convinced (well, almost) that he is indeed King Arthur; and he has realized what Ellie’s own role is: she is the Lady of the Lake, who brought Arthur the sword Excalibur and also, in the legend, brought him home to Avalon.

      But bringing Will home from the estrangement he feels from his family, especially his father, is a task of…err…legendary difficulty, as Ellie discovers in the graphic novel that picks up where the traditional novel leaves off. Jinky Coronado does a fine job of visualizing the characters – readers of the novel will find they look just about as they expected them to – and Cabot herself moves the story ahead at a pace that works well with the manga illustrations that Coronado provides. The pictures actually make some of the characters’ dual natures clearer than in the novel – the contrast between the Morgan who used to be a sweet girl and the Morgan who is coming into her role as the evil Morgan le Fay is particularly striking. And some action sequences work quite well, such as Professor Morton’s shattering of a globe to indicate what could happen if Ellie does not convince Will to believe in himself as Arthur reincarnated. The original Avalon High has a comic-book implausibility to it; it becomes in some ways more effective when actually done as a graphic novel. Still, be sure to, like, suspend lots of disbelief when you read this stuff, okay?

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