And it is through these children that the true heart of the novel is revealed. Filled with wonderfully likeable and realistic characters, all of whom have some kind of "flaw" that makes them unwanted, these societal rejects manage to do what adults never could—put their differences aside, accept each other, and in the process, unite for a greater cause.
In a novel that realistically and sometimes uncomfortably displays societal failures like run-away drug abuse, child molestation, indifferent adults, bigoted contempt for gays and lesbians, economic injustice, dispirited teachers and cops, and corrupt politicians, the novel threatens to overwhelm the reader with a sense of pessimism and fatalism at times. But Bowler manages to do just the opposite. Optimism and hope are its ultimate tone, as a bunch of rejects come to accept the challenge laid down by King Arthur and join his quest.
Bowler himself has dedicated his life to helping these throw-always, and his novel is a constant reminder that no child deserves to be written off. This book deserves to get a lot more attention than it has, and I hope it catches on. Kids need to know the central message of this book—that they aren't failures unless they internalize and perpetuate the flawed society that they reflect and inherited. It is society, after all, that has failed to provide these kids with a vision of love, acceptance, and hope.
It's probably unfair to put the responsibility for changing society onto a bunch of children, something that adults, with all their knowledge, education, and power, have failed to do. But alas, the dream lives on only in those still capable of dreaming. Or as Bowler puts it so wonderfully: "Once upon a time in the City of Angels, the children did lead, and the people hope." And the veiled message of this book, in my opinion, isn't really to get kids to rise up and change the world. Rather it's to shame adults for not doing just that.
The final hope is that the sequel is already out— Running Through a Dark Place—as well as several more sequels in the works coming soon thereafter.
Note: After reading this book, and getting ready to post this review, I noticed yet another well-meaning "We Need Diverse Books" post on my Tumblr feed. And so I can't help but point out the irony that books like Children of the Knight, a book populated with the most diverse characters I have ever seen in film or literature, is collecting dust on the metaphorical book shelf while the "We Need Diverse Books Project" is complaining about the lack of diversity in literature. Start buying the amazing works out there being offered to you by authors like Michael Bowler and good hearted publishers like Harmony Ink Press. Whining doesn't change things. If you don't support what IS out there, certainly the larger publishers are not going to pay any attention to you.