It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a funny, goofy book, and so this week, I went on a quest to find one worth sharing.
My hunt took me many places, but “Max and the Midknights,” by Lincoln Peirce, rose to the top.
Peirce wrote the Big Nate series, so if you liked that series, you can stop reading now and just go get “Max and the Midknights.” For those of you not familiar with Peirce’s work, read on.
This story is told in graphic novel style. I know this genre is very popular with young readers, but it has taken me a while to appreciate it. “Max and the Midknights” helped me in that journey. The pictures are very clear and cartoony, which I like.
Some graphic novels have illustrations that are so complex I find them hard to read. Which is ironic, since I enjoy novels that are densely packed with words, but dense illustrations stump me. It’s a reminder that we are all wired differently. This is me trying to stretch and grow.
Anyway, “Max and the Midknights” is set in the Middle Ages. It’s a story of four kids (plus a few oddball grown-ups) who join together to rescue one character’s uncle from the evil (but stupid) king.
While they are not full-fledged knights, they are also not make-believe knights — they are in between, or in the middle, hence (to use a Middle Agey term) “Middle Knights,” which gets shortened to Midknights.
Along the way, our adventurers meet a bumbling magician named Mumblin, a dragon, some zombies, gargoyles that have come to life and winged rats, so there are plenty of adventures. They also solve a mystery regarding the kind king who preceded the current, evil one.
Mumblin is one of my favorite characters. He has a cut-rate wand that works half the time and the other half of the time makes more trouble for the Midknights. He has a book of prophecies he got at a yard sale, “along with a ceramic monkey and a set of used dentures,” and at one point calls the adventurers using a banana as a phone. Classic kid humor! Instead of a crystal ball, he has a magic grapefruit. “It’s like a crystal ball, but it tastes better,” he says.
In addition to silly characters and outrageous plot lines, Peirce’s humor comes from his insertion of modern-day anachronisms, including references to shuffleboard, silly straws, brainstorming and labradoodles.
But we learn some actual true things about the Middle Ages as well. For example, one plot line is how in the Middle Ages children went into the profession their fathers were in. I should say, of course, male children did this.
Several characters in “Max and the Midknights” dream of doing something else, and one character, who is a girl, is aghast to realize she doesn’t have the option of doing anything other than be a seamstress, midwife or milkmaid, even though what she wants is to be a knight.
Peirce also sneaks in some terms like troubadour, ostler, moat and jester, which, if a student were learning about the Middle Ages in school, would be good words to know.
Ultimately, the story is about friendship, kindness and fellowship. And, true to middle-grade form, there are many happy endings to be had.
I hope Peirce writes more stories about the Midknights and that they become as popular as Big Nate.