Macmillan, 2007 (2006)
Avalon High, Ellie's new school, is pretty much what she'd expected. There's Lance, the hunky footballer; Jennifer, the cute cheerleader; Marco, the troublemaker. But the big surprise is Will - the most gorgeous guy Ellie's ever met.
When Will says he thinks he's known Ellie before, things start getting weird. A feeling that grows as Ellie discovers dark secrets that bind Lance, Jennifer, Marco Will - and herself. Can she stop the horrific chain of events that threatens to engulf them all?
Ellie has just moved to Annapolis because of her parents' jobs. Her mum and dad are professors of medieval history, and her mum is writing a book about the Lady of Shalott, Ellie's namesake. The Camelot theme is established early on, and snippets from "The Lady of Shalott" are used as the headings for individual chapters. What Ellie thinks is just an obsession of her parents', rooted firmly in the past, might be more than it seems, however.
At first, I thought I would warm to Ellie as a character. When the book opens, the summer holidays are upon her, and with no friends in this new city, Ellie spends her days floating in the family's swimming pool and obsessing over the chlorine levels, not really knowing what else to do with herself. Worried about starting a new school, and missing her best friend, Ellie emerges as a normal, slightly introverted teenager trying to figure out her life. So far so good.
Yet as soon as Ellie starts at Avalon High, I started to lose interest in her as a character. She becomes obsessed with Will after glimpsing him in the park a couple of times. Will, the hot (yet socially conscious!), mysterious boy is full of secrets, and he immediately turns up at Ellie's house for tea out of the blue. Just a few days later, he's revealing the issues he has with his dad. Ellie experiences some impressive insta-love, and then flips out about him keeping other secrets from her (basically, gossip she gets from her new friends regarding Will's past). I found that Ellie went from potentially interesting to quite dull, quite quickly. Her relationship with Will goes from smile-in-the-park to no-one-knows-me-like-you-do at such a speed that it felt completely unrealistic.
The reason for this instant connection is related to the book's Arthurian underpinnings, but I couldn't help but find it lazy all the same. The references to the Arthur/Camelot legend were a nice touch, but often felt laboured: the names were a fun addition, but the moments when Ellie races to the phone book to "discover" Will's actual name was worth an eye roll.
In the end, I think the problem was I didn't buy it. This wasn't high school with Arthurian parallels, but a not-quite-confident-enough-to-pull-it-off high school Arthur. When most of the characters don't even believe the ending or the motivations behind it, I'm not sure a reader should either. It's not doubt difficult to introduce vaguely supernatural (or, in this case, supernaturally historical) elements to a realistic, contemporary setting, but if you're going to do it, at least believe it. (How lame would Buffy have been if she hadn't quite believed that vampires were real, and spent entire chunks of each episode asking the audience, "Could it be true? Surely not! But what if... No! It's just too preposterous!")
Ellie, as a character, could have redeemed it if she had been more interesting and three dimensional, like the beginning promised but never followed through on. There was a lot of telling and not a lot of showing, and I didn't find Ellie compelling enough to ignore this. There were, however, a few sparks of interest: Ellie's parents are vibrant and amusing, for instance, and I enjoyed one particular strand of the historical paralleling: namely, that Ellie wasn't who everyone believed her to be. This raised some interesting questions regarding destiny and passivity, and did redeem the ending a little for me.
Having read and enjoyed a number of Cabot's Princess Diaries books, I shall give her other novels a go at some point, but for me Avalon High was overwhelmingly a disappointment.
Overall rating: 3/10
Book source: Borrowed from the library.