March 16, 2005

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The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, by Rick Yancey (Bloomsbury USA, 2005, 375 pages)

Alfred Kropp is a tall 15-year-old with a rather large head. His parents are dead so he lives with his uncle, a somewhat clueless night watchman.

That’s pretty much it for Alfred. He’s not a big fan of school and the girls in his class pay so little attention to him that it might be better if they at least hated him.

But then his uncle gets offered a lot of money to steal something from his employer, and enlists Alfred’s somewhat reluctant help. And when that something turns out to be King Arthur’s long-lost sword Excalibur, and when the password to the vault the sword is hidden in turns out to be Alfred’s name, things get weird. And violent. And then deadly.

Yancey’s book, geared to sixth- through eighth-graders, is hardly the first book to retell and revise the legend of King Arthur and his knights, nor will it be the last. It’s not even the best.

But it’s pretty good. The Extraordinary Adventures is a clever book that refuses to talk down to its audience. Alfred is a good if average kid and, if he happens to end up driving a sports car at a high rate of speed or in a sword fight with monks, it’s not his fault. He’s no hero, he’s just adapting to his ever-changing, ever-odder situation.

Yancey avoids the obvious solutions and cliches of a King Arthur tale. Sure, there are knights and bad guys and a protagonist whose name begins with “A,” but the plot does not shake out in the way you expect. B+

— Robert Greene


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