There’s something to be said about a continuing series with a revolving cast of characters.
It never gets old.
It always stays fresh.
That’s what makes Michael J. Bowler’s THE KNIGHT CYCLE—an anthology of five, full length, YA novels—something truly special.
As a modern day version of King Arthur’s Round Table, teenage knights come and go—literally live and die—but the heart of the story remains the same. The saga revolves around the plight of Lance and his journey into adulthood, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about the people he meets along the way, and how they shape his perspective on what it means to lead such a diverse group of individuals.
This time around, Lance is introduced to two Native American boys, Dakota and Kai, when they crash New Camelot’s Thanksgiving dinner. They turn up unexpectedly after leaving the reservation determined to let Lance know how their rights are being violated, hoping he can help them put an end to the rampant pattern of abuse afflicting their people. Children are being taken away by the government and sold to white families. Non-native adults are committing heinous criminal acts against native children, but under current law are unable to be prosecuted under their jurisdiction. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, without even bringing into question the lack of internet access to the outside world, the flagrant alcoholism pandemic to Native culture and the lack of opportunities available to young men like Dakota and Kai once they reach the age of eighteen.
And the two new recruits couldn’t be more different, personality wise.
Dakota is dubbed ‘Sir Cloudy Boy’ because of his recalcitrant attitude. He doesn’t talk much and he often keeps to himself. He’s harboring a lot of guilt for the mistakes he made in his past which caused him to become estranged from his mother. He wants above all else to be known as a warrior, someone who’s dependable and strong, but he’s going through quite an identity crisis in terms of the person he is on the inside versus the image he’s trying to project to the outside world. He doesn’t think the two match up and it’s causing him a lot of grief because he can find no peace due to the inner turmoil raging inside of him.
Kai is affectionally knighted as ‘Sir Laughs A Lot’ because of his sunny, lighthearted disposition. He’s the raging optimist to Dakota’s gloomy pessimist. But he’s not simply a one-dimensional contrast to Dakota’s more developed backstory, he’s the shining example of a boy with a healthy, positive self-image. He’s okay with himself, and he’s not afraid to show it. While Dakota grapples with his identity as a man, Kai does not come across nearly as tortured. He comes of age with grace and dignity without making it into the painful, agonizing process that Dakota puts himself through.
In a way, they’re echoes of Lance and Ricky, the emo boy versus the tenderhearted guy. Lance battles his problem with alcohol addiction, as does Dakota, whenever they’re in danger of reliving past trauma. Ricky and Kai play more of a supporting role to these troubled youth, but only because they’ve faced the same demons themselves and have come out better and stronger on the other side. They teach Lance and Dakota that love can light their way out of the darkness too. They don’t have to let their pasts define them.
Bowler does a commendable job of weaving these new faces into his ongoing narrative thread. He’s not a fan of labels but he broadens the scope of his story by branching out to all different races and nationalities, encompassing everybody as the story goes on. All ethnic groups, ages and genders are represented from Latinos (Lance, Ricky and Esteban) to Native Americans (Dakota and Kai) to African Americans (Justin and Brooks) to Asians (Techie) to Caucasians (Chris) to women (Reyna and Jenny) to middle age and older (Arthur and Merlin). Bowler leaves no one out. Anyone who picks up this series will be able to relate to one or more of the characters. They’re all human, and they all make mistakes, but they do so together, as a unit, as a family, and that’s what makes Bowler’s take on adolescent angst stand out from all the rest—it’s inclusive. Everyone’s welcome at the Round Table.