In September, I wrote a post about the R.M.S. Titanic because I was going through a disasters-at-sea reading phase. In October, I wrote a post about The Three Musketeers and proceeded to ask for two YA adaptations of the classic story as Christmas presents because I was going through a Musketeers phase. Therefore it’s no surprise, then, that today’s book was also chosen because of a reading phase. A King Arthur/Knights of the Round Table reading phase, to be precise.

At some point in my childhood, I turned my attention from Titanic to the Middle Ages. Like many young girls, I dreamed of being a princess and living in a castle. Learning that the real princesses who’d lived in those castles had led a very different life than I’d imagined was a bit of a letdown, but because their lives had been so different, I became immensely intrigued. Sieges, knights, no modern plumbing… how had they done it? It must have been around this time that I was given a book about the most famous knights of that era, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. This book, The Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur, broke down the tales of Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin, and all the rest into a collection of short stories designed for young readers. At the time, I loved the book to pieces. However, at some point I moved on to a new phase and must have decided that this book was no longer worth keeping. I don’t have many regrets about my childhood, but that decision was certainly one of them. For however many years followed between then and now, I’d often stare at my bookshelf and visualize the missing book in its rightful place, wondering at how dumb my younger self had been. Even though the Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur was long gone, the strong emotions I’d had about it made my heart continue to yearn for it. Yet there was nothing I could do at that time to right my wrong. The worst had happened: I’d forgotten the name of the book. Over time I began to forget the plot of the book too. I knew that I’d once loved it and now missed it dearly, but besides my lingering emotions I couldn’t conjure up a single thing about it.

Cut to about two weeks ago. I had just added a book set in Camelot to my “Want to Read” list on Goodreads (Of Crowns and Legends by Chelsea Banning, a book I am very excited to read), and wondered if there were any other adaptations of the Arthurian Legend I could read. I found several more I was interested in, but was disappointed that none of them matched my idea of the book I’d given away. Then, a new piece of information suddenly entered my brain: Usborne. When I was little, I used to think that books published by Usborne had been written by the author of the Magic Tree House series, Mary Pope Osborne. Somehow that misconception resurfaced in my brain and allowed me to instantly find the book that had eluded me for so long: the good old Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur! I’m pretty sure I made a noise of delight when I found the cover that matched my former copy. Within a week, a new copy was sitting on my doorstep. I was so excited when I’d first seen the cover online that I’d forgotten that I barely remembered anything about the book itself. Now, holding it in my hand, I was having doubts. Would the simplified stories be too young for me? Was I sure that I’d still enjoy reading about the Middle Ages? Were my worries for naught, or had I just wasted $30?

Spoiler alert: the book was incredible. So how does this relate back to the Ultimate Reading Challenge? Well, one of the deceptively simple tasks on the list is to read a book I’d selected based purely on its cover design. I knew from the get-go that this would be difficult, because how can you choose a book only by looking at its cover design? Titles, design quality, genre, and how the author is described (e.g. best-selling author of…) are just a few of the external factors that make it impossible to make an unbiased decision when choosing a book. Though I didn’t intend it to work out this way, the Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur had the least amount of bias in its cover design, making it perfect for this task. I felt happy when I looked at the cover and was pretty sure it would be a book I’d enjoy, but there was no way to know because I’d completely forgotten the majority of the plot. The description on the back was as vague as my memory: The classic tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are brought to life with stunning illustrations by Natasha Kuricheva. Discover the legend of Arthur’s Kingdom through the adventures of brave Sir Lancelot, beautiful Guinevere, wise wizard Merlin, evil Morgan Le Fay, and many others. Not much help, is it? I think this worked in my favour, though, frustrating as it was. If I’d chosen a book from the library, the length of a standard book description would have given me enough details to rule out dozens of books with appealing covers, ruining the point of this task, which I suppose is to read outside of your comfort zone. I think there’s a chance I would have chosen this book even if I’d never read it before, though, because the cover is extremely well-designed. I’m no design expert by any means, but I love the variety and the richness of the colours used in the cover illustration. The style used feels almost timeless, or of another century, which I guess makes sense since the stories are set during the Middle Ages. I also love the placement of each character, and how the colours from each corner blend to create the illusion that the title is rising out of the background like Excalibur below rises from the lake. It’s a cool cover! With that all said, let’s move on to the book itself.

The Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur, retold by Sarah Courtauld with illustrations by Natasha Kuricheva:

Like the official description states, this collection of stories about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table “brings the characters to life” with a modern writing style and beautiful illustrations designed to appeal to a younger audience. It serves as the perfect introduction to the Arthurian Legends, and builds a foundation for readers to appreciate and enjoy the original texts later in life. Magic, treason, valour, and duty are consistent themes throughout the book, teaching lessons both obvious and inferred. Whether you’re interested in hard-fought battles, tales of magical deception, or simply enjoy learning about the Middle Ages, there’s something for everyone within these pages. Some of the plots (bloody battles, treason, unfaithfulness, etc) are a little heavy for younger readers, though, so it’s probably best for ages 10+.

Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur has to be one of my top reads of the year. Because I’d forgotten the plot, I was able to enjoy each story like it was new, while at the same time feeling like I was meeting old friends. Some of the stories did surprise me in their gruesomeness (many, many knights die), but that made it better because those details enhanced the story and made it feel similar to the types of books I usually read. Another thing that surprised me, though I guess it shouldn’t come as a total shock in the context of that time period, was that the knights spent a lot of time rescuing damsels in distress. The stronger female characters were usually sorceresses using magic for nefarious means or else were eventually written off. This was frustrating, but I tried not to let it ruin my enjoyment of the stories.

Despite the parts that surprised me, I really, really liked this book. I’m questioning slightly if younger Leah should have read it, but I can certainly see why she loved it. The stories are engaging, full of magic, and rooted in history. I now have a newfound appreciation for the stories of Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, and the others who populate the Arthurian Legend. A part of me now wants to travel through the pages of the book and become a Knight of the Round Table and/or learn magic alongside Merlin! I’ve definitely developed a new interest in the Middle Ages as a result of this book. Besides reading other books set during this time period, maybe I’ll indulge this new phase by going to Medieval Times at some point in 2023. If I can’t actually become a Knight of the Round Table, this is the next best thing! As you can tell, I am very excited about the Usborne Illustrated Tales of King Arthur. Just thinking about it makes me feel happy inside! I’m still not quite sure what possessed me to get rid of my original copy, but I know that this new copy was well worth the wait.

As 2022 draws to a close, I would like to thank you for your continued support of my writing. This post will be the thirteenth of this year, the eighth in the Ultimate Reading Challenge post series, and the sixtieth overall since I started this blog in the summer of 2019. I wouldn’t have made it nearly this far without your encouragement and supportive comments. I hope to continue posting regularly throughout 2023, so keep your eyes open for new posts! Thank you again for your support, and I wish you all a happy and healthy 2023.

Published by macinnla12

My name is Leah, and I love to read! Through this blog, I will demonstrate my passion of reading by recommending books, authors, and book-related things to you. I will also occasionally post short stories that I have written. Feel free to leave a comment with any suggestions or feedback that you may have.

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  1. Before I got to the part about you buying the book I’d already looked it up and was ready to buy it for you !
    I’m glad you got it and thanks for the review . Maybe I’ll get it anyways for Riley and Raya to enjoy ❤️❤️


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