Four unlikely heroes; teenage girls chosen by a mysterious shapeshifting talking dog, gifted with magical rings, and charged with a quest to recover the lost sword of Avalon. Kel McDonald introduced teen readers to her quartet of misfits and her Arthurian retelling in The Queen of Air and Delinquency, and the stories of Morgan, Rae, Elsie, and Kimber continue in this second volume of the planned trilogy.
As The Ill-Made Guardian begins, Morgan remains bitter about her inclusion in this band of maybe heroes, though she becomes more accepting of her fate, and determined to finish it. As the story unfolds, her harsh edges are softened as she awkwardly pursues a relationship with Elsie’s brother, Billy. Elsie continues to try hard to find her place; she alone seems interested in creating friendships with Morgan and Rae and in reaching out to try to build bridges with the younger Kimber to help the quartet work together more effectively.
More details emerge about Rae and Kimber in this second volume. Studious, refined Rae is hiding an ugly family secret, one that is uncovered as her world and Kimber’s clash outside of their involvement in their quest, and her desire to escape a tainted legacy and control her own fate drive her toward a dark grab for power. Kimber’s comparative youth becomes more obvious, both in her desire to be included and in how easily she is manipulated by those older and more worldly than she, particularly the seemingly more together Rae.
The idea of the Misfits of Avalon is brilliant; a female-centric retelling of the Arthurian legends with imperfect heroes and layers of mystery is appealing, particularly as the desire for strong female protagonists continues to grow. The racial and socio-economic diversity of the characters also adds to the appeal, and their flaws make their stories compelling. But, if there is a complaint to be made here, it’s that McDonald’s story builds incredibly slowly. She has a great concept and solid characters, but her execution of telling the story struggles to capture and hold my attention.
While it made sense that most of volume 1 focused on world-building and character introductions, the story unfolds only in bits and pieces here as well. Much of the first half of The Ill-Made Guardian is focused on continuing to capture the girls’ personalities and character quirks, but that information doesn’t help to move the plot forward. It is only in the second half of the volume that things start to actually happen, with a dramatic betrayal of their magical benefactor by one of the girls and the discovery of where the lost sword might be found. These conflicts, so central to the story for all that they happen late in the book, serve to foreshadow what one hopes will be the more action-filled volume 3.
As with The Queen of Air and Delinquency, McDonald illustrates her story with grayscale art, bold strokes and thick lines that lack detail but work well to capture the personality of each character. This approach, though, does not really capture the action or intensity of the story’s fight scenes, which helps to minimize the potential visual impact of violent confrontations but also limits the reader’s potential engagement in the visual storyline. This sparse style complements the storytelling, but it doesn’t help to draw the reader into the story or to add spice the slow plot. Much like the story, the art is interesting, but I found myself wishing for more to be happening.
Misfits of Avalon is rated for readers 14+, and the story is likely appropriate for most teen collections, but there are potentially problematic elements that may be of concern to some parents or readers. The girls do occasionally use strong language, though it’s more PG-13 than R rated. It is strongly implied that Morgan and Billy engage in sexual activities, but the action is all off-screen; we do see him leaving her apartment the next morning. There is also a subtle allusion to same-sex attraction in Rae’s cultivation of Kimber’s trust, though it is arguable that these hints are more a manipulation trick than an indicator of actual sexuality. Certainly it is not clearly acted on or defined. The relationships of the protagonists to their parents remain problematic, including very obvious instances of lying about their activities to serve their own agendas.
This is very much a series which requires that you read volume 1 to understand volume 2, and it seems volume 3 is required to see the story resolve; neither of the volumes really works a stand-alone story. I confess that I do want to know how this story ends, but I wish McDonald had offered more story in this particular volume.
Misfits of Avalon, vol. 2: The Ill-Made Guardian
by Kel McDonald
Dark Horse, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 14+