Max & the Midknights 2: Battle of the Bodkins. By Lincoln Peirce. Crown.
Amid the many medieval marvels, remarkable
romances and splendid sagas of times gone by, the wizardly wonders of Max & the Midknights have, alas,
gone unreported and unrecognized. “Methinks it is past time for reading about
Max to become a pastime,” must Lincoln Peirce have thought, and forsooth, lo
and behold, and ods bodikins, the original tale of the redoubtable renegades now
spawns a sequel with some very odd bodkins indeed.
“Whence comes this and by what method?”
you may well ask; and, well, it is a good question, if awkwardly phrased, and none
but Lincoln Peirce can know the complete answer in the fullness of time.
So: the creator of the long-running and
longstanding Big Nate comic strip has
produced the second illustrated novel – not quite a graphic novel, but a novel
with ample illustrations – featuring the almost-knights of Byjovia and their
redoubtable if not quite fearless leader, Max. Although Max is a girl and
comic-strip Nate is a boy, the resemblances between the two are many and
varied, not only attitudinally but also through their facial expressions, such
as the one-eye-wide-open-and-one-a-straight-line-or-tiny-circle one used by
Peirce to convey a combination of befuddlement and disapproval (a useful expression
for Max as early as page 8 of the new book, and then on page 25, and on page
102, and – you get the idea).
The Midknights all return for Battle of the Bodkins, perhaps a bit
worse for wear since their original rescue-the-king adventure but as determined
as ever to do derring-do, save Byjovia, and generally yuck it up a bit along
the way. This time, though, they have to save Byjovia from themselves, which
somewhat complicates matters. The “bodkins” of the title – a variation on the
old word “bodikins,” which in the form of “ods bodikins” was a mild oath some
300 years back – are evil twins of the good guys, doppelgängers representing
all sorts of badness while the Midknights represent all sorts of goodness. But
the bad guys look exactly like the good guys, or almost exactly like them; and, at least sometimes, they sound just
like them, too, or almost just like
them. So you can’t tell the players without ye olde medieval scorecard, which
is part of the point and part of the fun.
Like the first Max & the Midknights book, Battle
of the Bodkins really is a lot of fun, partly because of its echoes of Big Nate and partly because of the way
it diverges from the comic strip. Both books are briefly introduced by Nate
himself, and the characters in the Max books clearly parallel ones in Nate’s
contemporary sixth-grade world, from the short and rotund Kevyn, who invents
the concept of a library in Battle of the
Bodkins and resembles the short and rotund Chad in Big Nate, to Max’s feckless troubadour uncle, Budrick, a close
parallel to Nate’s feckless father. On the other hand, Peirce has fun varying
the elements of everyday life faced by Nate (school, classmates, teachers) and
Max (magicians, griffins, kings and queens). The result is that the Max & the Midknights books are fun
whether or not readers know Big Nate,
being both different enough and similar enough to engage those who are or are
not familiar with Peirce’s other work.
of the Bodkins has many of the same underlying attitudes and
characteristics as the first Max book and the Big Nate strip: friendship, working together, that sort of thing –
all quite age-appropriate for the preteen audience at which Max & the Midknights is aimed. But
there is enough quirkiness in Battle of
the Bodkins to make the book enjoyable in some ways that are quite
different from those in Big Nate –
for instance, by having Max’s knight-school class be carried on an assignment
“to find our way home from the middle of nowhere” by magical clouds, to which
the would-be knights ascend on rope ladders. Wondering what makes the things go,
Max says, “I don’t understand cloud technology.”
Peirce’s imagination runs rampant, if not riot, in Battle of the Bodkins, with all sorts of concepts that are just weird enough and silly enough to give the book its constant mixture of amusement and amazement. Nothing in it is to be taken at all seriously (well, except maybe for the foundational paean to friendship and working together), but both the writing and the illustrations are so neatly done – and work so well together – that the second book in this series is every bit as much fun as the first. The faux-medieval setting lets Peirce come up with concepts far too far-out for modern life, such as the wizard who, Max explains, “uses fruit to communicate. He and I once had a long-distance conversation on a banana.” And then there is another wizard, “who accidentally turned himself into a pastry” (he got “roll” when he wanted “troll”), who appears at an opportune moment to play the bagpipes. Peirce scatters this sort of whimsy throughout a book that also contains enough adventure to keep readers turning the pages – which is the whole point, of course. The Max & the Midknights books are a delightful spinoff from the world of Big Nate, with Max being every bit as appealing a central character in her “ye olde” adventures as Nate is in his thoroughly modern ones.