Sunday 2 February 2020

Max and the Midknights

Max and the Midknights by Lincoln Peirce (Macmillan) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781529029260

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Power politics, feminism, egalitarianism, history, magic and satire: an unusual list of ingredients for a children’s book, but in Max and the Midknights, Lincoln Peirce mixes them with great effect to create a funny, absurd and fast-paced illustrated adventure story with multiple layers and broad appeal.  

Max is introduced as the long-suffering sidekick of her troubadour uncle Budrick. A twist at the end of Chapter 3 reveals Max to be a rebel against gender and socio-economic stereotypes and sets up the central conflict. Max is horrified by the injustices rife in Budrick’s childhood hometown of Byjovia and meets a cast of downtrodden and frustrated victims of tyrannical King Gastley’s regime. What follows is a rollicking adventure story, as Max and the motley band of highly engaging supporting characters seek to overthrow Gastley.

The medieval fantasy setting provides context for exploring the themes of the book as well as an excuse for absurd humour. The dialogue drips with puns and amusing archaic exclamations (gadzooks!). The central theme - giving everyone the chance to fulfil their dreams and potential, regardless of gender, class or origin - is a consistent undercurrent throughout the story before becoming a key element of the final resolution.

The book is made up of comic strips connected with passages of narrative text. This format will engage even reluctant readers, although it poses a challenge for anyone attempting to read the text aloud. The strips are assured and effective, in a style recognisable to anyone familiar with Peirce’s Big Nate comic series and books.

This is a book that will appeal widely to 8 to 12-year olds, especially those who enjoy a fast-paced adventure story featuring a plucky underdog. While younger kids may also enjoy the story, it’s worth noting that there are zombies rising from the dead and a few other hairy moments which may affect more sensitive readers.

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