When I was young, my favorite series was the Prydain Chronicles (Book of Three, Black Caldron, Castle of Llyr, Taran Wanderer, and High King). These books are a sort of middle grade/young adult Lord of The Rings. The only other books of Alexander’s that I read was the young adult Westmark Trilogy (Westmark, The Kestrel and Beggar Queen) .
The Arkadians has a lot of the best elements of the other two series. The two lead characters are reminiscent of the male and female leads from the other two series. There is a third character who provides a lot of comic relief (and a bit of content warning if you are reading this with younger children.) The third character is a man that has been turned into a talking donkey, a jackass in more than one sense of the word and the word play is used to its full extent.
There is a bit more upfront feminist empowerment in the Arkadians than in the other two series (although Alexander always has had a feminist bent.) The great ones have gone away because the Bear Tribe (men) unleashed chaos on the world and the women are attempting to keep the old ways alive in spite of oppression by the Bear Tribe.
The heroes are on a quest, or really a series of quests. The structure seems like it is in part a way to explore the concept of story telling. This book is full of stories, some of them re-workings of ancient myths, some are new (at least to me.) But it felt a bit like Donald Miller’s book A Thousand Miles in a Million Years because there was constant discussion of how to tell a story and suggestions on how a story might be made better by adjusting the details.
This would make a great read aloud. There is a lot of subtle humor to keep the adults entertained and more than enough obvious humor for the kids.
And even more than what I remember from other Alexander books, this is a book that is teaching moral values through story. I learned a lot of moral values from my reading of his books. And maybe the others were less subtle than I remember. But this is a book that would fit well with some of the more overt books of moral teachings that was common of an earlier generation of children’s books. That being said, this is good art, not clunky moralism. I will keep this on my list to read to my kids in another 5 or so years when my children are old enough.