Wednesday, January 29, 2014

REVIEW: "Children of the Knight" by Michael Bowler (Tribute Books)


"According to legend, King Arthur is supposed to return when Britain needs him most. So why does a man claiming to be the once and future king suddenly appear in modern-day Los Angeles?

This charismatic young Arthur creates a new Camelot within the City of Angels to lead a crusade of unwanted kids against an adult society that discards and ignores them. Under his banner of equality, every needy child is welcome, regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or gang affiliation.

With the help of his amazing First Knight, homeless fourteen-year-old Lance, Arthur transforms this ragtag band of rejected children and teens into a well-trained army—the Children of the Knight––where even gay boys and gangsters work side by side. Through his intervention, they win the hearts and minds of the populace at large, and gain a truer understanding of themselves and their worth to society. But seeking more rights for kids pits Arthur and his children squarely against the rich, the influential, and the self-satisfied politicians who want nothing more than to maintain the status quo.

Can right truly overcome might? Arthur’s hopeful young knights are about to find out, and the City of Angels will never be the same.

The Knight Cycle begins . . ."

Prices/Formats: $6.99 ebook, $17.99 paperback

Pages: 344
ISBN: 9781623806552
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Release: June 20, 2013


Michael J. Bowler is an award-winning author of three novels - A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time, and Children of the Knight - who grew up in San Rafael, California.

He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University and earned a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master's in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II,” the reviews of which are much more fun than the actual movies.

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-year volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles. He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state. He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed he and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has already completed the two continuations of Children of the Knight that complete the trilogy - Running Through A Dark Place & And The Children Shall Lead. Both will likely be released in 2014.



An English professor that I once had stated that what makes good fiction is "the unexpected".  Kids in unexpected circumstances.  Unexpected weather.  Historical figures doing unexpected things, etc.  We've all likely heard of King Arthur.  But what about when he unexpectedly shows up in present-day downtown L.A.?

I laughed.  I cried.  I felt.  Simply put, this is easily one of the best books I've read in the past five years.  King Arthur surprises everyone by showing up in downtown L.A. riding a horse.  His quest?  Fulfill a mission to save the optional children of L.A. and rebuild a kind of modern Camelot.  Oh yeah, and figure out modern technology (maybe).  While the premise may seem hard to accomplish well, Bowler makes writing a quality book with a complicated plot in an accessible way look easy.  While reading, I often melted into this book and had to shake my head to reorient myself to the living room, reminding myself that I was not in the caves with King Arthur and the children.  Bowler's writing invites readers to truly hear water dripping and shots going off, truly feel sneers and snarky comments from peers, truly witness and experience injustice in its most disturbing form - one involving children.  This book will call you to action on behalf of our society's "optional children."  If you read anything this year, read this book.   


The Good
I cried.  Twice.  Books don't generally move me enough to make me cry.  This one did.

Methinks there doth not be enough good praise for this book.  It is extremely well written (for one thing, I only found one type in the entire!  Those of you who read my blog regularly know this is a feat in itself because I hunt for typos).  When I read a scene, I was in the scene.  There were several times that I had to look around just to remind myself that I was indeed sitting in my living room, not right there with Esteban doing something dumb, or Reyna being aloof, or Lance wrestling with emotional demons.  Bowler's matter-of-fact, straight forward writing style absolutely pulled me in and plunked me next to the narrator.  What a ride!

King Arthur shows up in modern-day L.A. with some provisions, Excalibur, Llamrei (a horse), clothing, and a determination to fulfill the vision that awoke him from a long slumber.  Youth restored, King Arthur sets out to figure out what the vision meant when he meets Lance.  Oh dear Lance.  A boy with a chip on his shoulder the size of my beloved home state of Alaska.  A boy whom society has given up on.  An "optional" child who hides behind his bangs and skates with dreams of winning gold during BMX competitions.  A boy who would become King Arthur's First Knight and help unite many of the rest of L.A.'s "optional" children in a quest to better their city in a way that the adults who have consistently failed them wish they could accomplish.

The premise may sound a bit goofy - King Arthur in modern L.A.? - but trust me: Bowler pulls it off incredibly well.  King Arthur struggles with exactly the things I'd expect a man from his time to struggle with: technology, the new landscape (keeping in mind that L.A. isn't his home Britain), realizing how very little those in power seem to change over time, and an advanced society's shocking ability to abuse and ostracize its most precious and innocent members - the children. 

In this work I think I saw a glimpse of Bowler's heart.  I say this because when I finished reading, one of my thoughts was "this author cares deeply about justice for children".  As someone who is an advocate as well, I could see tells of someone who has worked directly with the "difficult children" that society likes to pretend don't exist.  Characters leap off these pages and refuse to be shut up - their voices will be heard.  The plight of millions of children around our nation will be heard.  Things the kids say in this work are things that I've only heard "difficult" children say in my work with them.  We like to think that we are so advanced as a culture and my humble opinion any society that treats children like disposable commodities has failed.

Anyways, the more King Arthur learns about the current state of affairs, the more he sees just how miserably adults have failed the children.  He loves them, gives them a chance, and is so charismatic that people cannot help but join his is just so just! (Maybe Merlin helped him be more charismatic.)  He also shows them how they can channel their energies for good.  We like to think that people cannot be contributing members of society until they are in their 20s at the earliest.  Thank you, Bowler, for playing a part in showing people that kids are capable of moving mountains as well. 

Thank you, also, for playing a part in showing people that children need to be allowed to be children. This is a lesson that even King Arthur had to learn....but if I'm not careful I'm going to ruin the plot!  I don't want to do that - you need to read this book!  

Seriously!!  I don't often pay full-price for a book unless it is for a class, and I'd pay full price for this work.  In fact, I just may for the sequel.

Speaking of sequel - this is the first book in a trilogy.  Now, some first books that I've read are obviously leading into something.  You know the kind, the stores that don't quite wrap up because they want to drag their readers into continuing to read the next book.  This book does no such thing.  No, Sire.  Instead, Bowler wrote it in such an artful, compelling, and engaging manner that I want to read the next book simply because I enjoyed the first so much. Children of the Knight can stand alone - its story wraps up nice and neat, there are no dangling loose ends, etc.  At the same time, there are plenty of places it could go.  I can't wait to read the next book!  

Another part of the reason I want to read the next book?  I know these characters. Bowler took the time to explain back stories for people, making them seem more real.  These are kids that I've met in North East Minneapolis.  These are kids I know.  These are kids who truly come alive on the pages.  Their voices are unique.  They have distinct personalities.  They have grown up too fast.  

In short - I love the writing, I love the story, I love the characters, I love this book.  :)

Never underestimate the power of giving kids a chance.

The Bugly (bad/ugly)
Honestly, I had to struggle to come up with anything that resembled a bugly.  Sure, there are some super-natural things that happen (hello - what is the King Arthur doing in L.A.?), but they are not just left to dangle, they're explained well.  I think the only real bugly I have to complain about is that King Arthur speaks in a way that is Old English and a smidge hard to understand in places (kind of like reading Shakespeare).


"People ask me all the time, "What inspired you to write Children of the Knight?" The answer is both easy and sad - society. I've been a volunteer within the juvenile justice system of Los Angeles for almost thirty years and a high school teacher for twenty-five. The idea for this book goes back fifteen or twenty years when I got to know and understand gang members better, as well as other disenfranchised youth I met within the system or at my high school. I saw the success of Homeboy Industries here in L.A. and the effect its founder, the always inspiring and charismatic Father Greg Boyle, had over gang members, even to the point of having enemies work side by side and ultimately become friends. I talked with lots of gang members, homeless kids, gay kids, drug addicts, high school drops outs, and many who combined more than one of these "offenses against society." I got to know these kids - they were the ones I gravitated to, and they to me. They seemed to know instinctively that I was open to them and would not shove them away or reject them like most grownups had already done and continued to do.

Over time, I began to wonder what might happen if an adult, a strong leader, came along and united these marginalized kids and turned all their collected might toward positive endeavors. As young people who'd been rejected and unloved, these kids had engaged in nothing but antisocial, destructive, and criminal behaviors. That's where all of their negative energy and feelings were being directed. After all, since society had rejected them and who they were as human beings, they rejected society and all its conventions and phony platitudes about doing what's right. Society had wronged them so they felt they had the right to wrong society. But if that negative energy and "might" could be collected, harvested almost, by someone who made these kids feel loved and important and who convinced them that working together made them much more formidable than working alone, they could effect real change in society for the good, not the bad, and the adult world would have to pay attention.

It seemed to me that the time of King Arthur with all the warring, feuding groups and clans of ancient Britain seemed very much like the gangs, tagging crews, and other posses of rejected kids we have roaming our streets today, especially here in LA. It wasn't a big leap from that thinking to the idea of King Arthur, himself, with his philosophy of "might for right," bringing together these lost kids and sparking a revolution.

Another reason I wrote this book was so these disenfranchised kids could have some heroes of their own to root for. Gay boys (more than girls) are mocked and bullied and made fun of to the point that a huge number, relative to the overall teen population, commit suicide or attempt it. There are also an inordinate number of gay kids in detention, roughly fifteen percent, and I've personally known a large number whose rejection by society and their own families led them to drugs or other negative choices. As a consequence of those choices, they ended up in juvenile hall. Teen gang members are vilified and excoriated in the media or made into mere thugs by Hollywood. Abused kids often suffer in silence because they are too afraid or embarrassed to tell anyone what happened to them. These kids need more stories about them, with characters like them, in settings they know - like the inner city, lousy public schools, run-down housing projects, or even street corners that become home when they've been kicked out of the house by cruel, unfeeling parents.

The teen characters in my book have all been screwed over by their parents and/or society for most of their lives, even rich girl Reyna, and yet they rise to the level of heroic when given the opportunity. They overcome their past abuse, neglect, and rejection to become young people of great significance, achieving results adults could only dream of. Lance, the main character, is a particularly strong role model  - a kid rife with fears and insecurities and deep-seeded pain who overcomes these traumas to inspire the city and the world. All these ostracized kids, more than most, need positive images of themselves, and my book, in its own small way, seeks to provide those images.

I also hope to mainstream for general readership these kids that society disdains. As much as I want gay kids, the abused, and the gang-affiliated or former gang-affiliated kids to read this book and its sequels, I really want so-called "regular" teens and adults to read it, too. Many teenagers honestly don't know anyone who's gay or in a gang or even who was abused. I've met plenty of adults, and too many kids, who want nothing to do with, as Reyna puts it in my book, "Those people." On TV and in movies gay boys are usually portrayed as stereotypically effeminate, and so non-gay kids laugh at that and think all gay boys fit the same mold. The gay boys in my book are not the least bit feminine but are, in fact, quite badass, brave, and rather epic. I want readers to know that gay boys, like non-gay boys, come in all shapes and sizes and talents and are, in fact, just like every other boy.

Same goes for the teen gang members. According to the news and the media, they are nothing more than monsters. But in reality, for anyone willing to take the time to know them, they're no different than anyone else's kids, except they grew up with a lethal absence of hope in circumstances most of us wouldn't wish on our enemies. Most gang members I've gotten to know would love to have never gotten caught up in the lifestyle. They have dreams and aspirations and want a good life, just like non-gang-affiliated kids.

Sadly, there are even a lot of people who don't take abuse seriously as the reason behind some teens committing criminal acts. Trust me, physical and sexual abuse of kids is rampant in this country and most of it goes untreated. Especially with boys, that internalized pain and humiliation will rise to the surface eventually and the result won't be pretty. So yes, I'd like "mainstream" readers to walk in the shoes of these kids so they can maybe understand them a bit and therefore not be so quick to judge them.

 This book is the first of a trilogy. It's one long book, actually, as part II, Running Through a Dark Place, begins exactly where I ends and III, And the Children Shall Lead, starts where II concludes. The total story covers about four years in the lives of these kids, so it's a genuine coming-of-age story. I want the readers to live with my kids and bear witness to their growth and maturity and accomplishments. In their fight for children's rights, they go from the barrios of L.A. to the White House, a joint session of the U.S. Congress, and beyond, and I think readers will be happy, and feel inspired, if they stick around for the entire journey. 

So there you have it, my thinking that went into the planning and writing of Children of the Knight. It's a story close to my heart because the kids are all based on real people I've known, and their rejection by society still sticks in my soul like a knife. Hopefully, this book will get into the hands of teens and adults everywhere, and hopefully those readers will come to love "my kids" as I do." 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, Nora, for your amazingly kind and supportive review. To know that my story and characters touched you so deeply truly touches and humbles me. Take care!