Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players

Review by Ed Sizemore

Artie and the Knights face a dilemma: they need to raise $300 to replace the broken windshield on Principal Dagger’s car. The grand prize for the Dueling Dragons Robot Tournament is $300. The problem is that Joe and the Horde always win the tournament by bullying one of the smartest kids in school into building them an undefeatable robot. Artie then finds out there may be an easy way to insure their victory, but it may not be the right decision. Meanwhile, Percy never seems to be around and is upset that Artie has entered the Knights in the robot tournament. Will Artie and the Knights make the right choices? And if they do, does that mean losing the robot duel?

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players cover
Knights of the Lunch Table:
The Dragon Players
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This is the second book in the Knights of the Lunch Table series. Whereas the first volume had a lot for both parents and kids to enjoy, this volume is more focused on the younger readers.

It’s a morality tale that’s practical to all areas of life. The big decision that Artie has to face is whether he is willing to win at any cost or will he compete fairly and risk losing. Embedded in this decision is the question of how Artie is going to live his life in general. Is he simply going to take the path of least resistance, or is he willing to work hard, make sacrifices, and do what’s right? In this regard, the book reminds me of Merlin’s lessons in T.H. White’s The Once And Future King.

Cammuso does a great job of making Artie’s world and his choices very realistic. The bad guy, Joe, gets away with a lot because kids are too scared to tell on bullies for fear of getting beat up. Seeing Joe and his buddies getting away with so much makes it harder for Artie and the Knights to choose the more difficult and morally correct path. None of the adults seem to be aware of what’s going on. However, Artie and the Knights aren’t completely left to their own devices.

Like his name sake, Mr. Merlyn gives Artie both the advice he needs and the freedom to make his own decisions. He puts into words the lessons that Artie’s other mentor, the magical locker, can only hint at. It’s the locker that leads Artie to Evo to see what happens when you always choose the easy way to success and get caught. It’s the locker that also gives Artie the book on how to build robots. You have to wonder about the relationship between Mr. Merlyn and the locker.

The lesson Artie and the Knights learn is one that we as adults need to be reminded of, too. It’s easy to get so fixated on achieving your goals that you lose your moral compass. In your obsession, you make decisions with real consequences that you will come to regret. Sometimes you spend the rest of your life living with the fallout of just one bad choice. Making the right decision is never simply an autonomic response. We’re constantly faced with new challenges that force us to stop and think what direction we want to take with our lives. The book is a great reminder that doing the right thing is a lifelong struggle.

There is one minor flaw in this volume. At one point in the story, we’re told that there are four teams signed up for the robot tournament. When we actually get to the tournament itself, however, the only teams competing are the Knights and the Horde. What happened to the other two teams? Part of what upsets me is that I was really looking forward to two rounds of robot competition and only got one. So I’m feeling a little cheated myself.

My other complaint is that I wish Gwen was used more often in this book. She’s the only female member of the Knights and often the voice of reason. Artie and the Knights take her for granted. We never get to see her and Artie working on the robot together. I’m hoping that she’ll have a bigger presence in the next book and step out of the background to become a major character.

Although aimed mostly at kids, there are some things for the parents, too. The opening three pages are an amazing foreshadowing, motif setup, and summary of the book all in one. You have to go back and reread those pages after you finish the book to see how well those first three pages are crafted.

I’m also a fan of what I call the Lunch Ladies from Macbeth. They only get a couple of pages in each book, but they are so wonderfully kooky. I love the off-kilter rhyming and how it all seems non-sequitur and yet makes sense at the same time. It’s a masterful stroke to combine prophecy and comic relief in the same persons, without ruining the integrity of either character type.

Cammuso’s art is delightful. The use of thick lines and bright primary colors make this an eye-catching book. The pages are well laid out and make for easy reading. My favorite pages are the ones where the entire page itself is one panel with smaller panels inserted. I’d like to see that layout used a little more often. Cammuso is also excellent at expressing emotions. You can feel Artie’s awkwardness when he’s called to speak with Mr. Merlyn after class. Percy’s frustration at being bullied really jumps off the page. Just like the first volume, this is a book you can just flip through and enjoy visually for its own sake.

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players is a great all ages book. I hope that Cammuso and Scholastic will continue with the series. I recommend the series to anyone looking for well-written kids comics that can deliver a message through a truly entertaining story instead of just moralizing. I look forward to the further adventures of Artie and the Knights. You can preview the first three pages of this book at the publisher’s website.


10 Responses to “Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players”

  1. moritheil Says:

    So is this in effect a retelling of The Once And Future King for kids? I’m not familiar with the series, but the names would seem to be a lampshading.

    I wonder if a feminist reading of this would conclude it enforces patriarchal attitudes, given that Gwen is marginalized.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Yes, the Arthurian parallels are more obvious in the first book. I’m not sure how Ed feels about the gender politics, but when I read the book, I was put off by how the only prominent women were the evil principal, who’s obsessed by her possessions, and her lackey. I would have liked to have seen much more of Gwen, since she’s more sensible than the whole lot of boys. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t appear more in the story? If she would have, there wouldn’t have been much story, since so much of it turns on the question of whether the kids will make bad (for a very traditional moral system) decisions. I liked this less than Ed did, especially since the “happy ending” is nothing more than a reset to status quo.

  3. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Moritheil, that’s a great question that I’m not equipped to answer.

    Johanna,I confessed I missed the gender politics. Sorry. I would also add that Artie’s older sister is another example of a prominent women who is evil.

    I don’t mind the status quo ending, because I think it adds to the realism of the book.

  4. Johanna Says:

    The gender politics are a reflection of the source material, I suspect. Are there any admirable women in King Arthur tales? You’ve got evil witches and an adulterer, and I can’t think of any more.

    Do you mind elaborating on how returning to the status quo is realistic?

  5. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Johanna,

    If there are any virtuous women in the Arthurian legends, they are all hidden off stage. So I believe you’re correct that this series is inheriting a particular gender bias from the source material. I believe that Cammuso is attempting to mitigate that in the characters of Gwen, the Lunch Ladies of Macbeth, and Artie’s mother.

    There are times when we find ourselves in trouble not of our own making. For example, your boss has fallen behind on a project and then dumps the workload on you to get the project done on time. Principal Dagger’s windshield getting broken is an honest accident and no one but the insurance company should have to pay for the replacement. In circumstances like these, breaking even seems the best you can hope for. In a perfect world, your boss would reward you for your extra effort to cover his butt, however that doesn’t always happen. So the status quo ending shows Artie and the Knights that the world isn’t always fair and doesn’t always reward making the right choices. However, as the cliché goes, virtue is its own reward. (I hope that clarifies my position better.)

  6. Johanna Says:

    Makes sense. Just seems a little pessimistic / resigned for a kids book.

  7. Chinonso Says:

    What is the third book about?

  8. Ed Sizemore Says:

    Chinonso,

    There is no third book, yet. Most likely, we won’t see one until next year.

  9. Ed’s Saturday At Baltimore Comic-Con 2011 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] my favorite kid’s artists, Frank Cammuso. At his table was a very pleasant surprise, the newest Knights of the Lunch Table book, The Battling Bands. I wasn’t aware the new book was out, and I quickly snatched a copy. I [...]

  10. Knights of the Lunch Table: The Battling Bands » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] enjoyed the previous two volumes of Knights of the Lunch Table, so I was pleased to see this new volume out. Quick warning to those [...]




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