A shy, overweight 16 year old boy becomes involved in a quest to retrieve King Arthur's sword from evildoers in the 21st century. Alfred is the perfect teenage underdog. Orphaned after 15 years with his mother, he is taken in by his security guard uncle Farrell (think Barney Fife in a trailer), who is offered one million dollars to steal a sword from the building where he works, Samson Towers. The mysterious Mr. Myers, of the million dollars, claims that the sword is his and was stolen from him. Farrell can't do this alone, so he blackmails Alfred into helping him with the threat of foster care. Alfred has bad feelings about this all along, but figures that Uncle Farrell is all the family he has left, so he goes along with him.
The story develops quickly, layer after mysterious layer. There is an order of brown-robed knights sworn to protect the sword, who show up as soon as Alfred lays his hands on it. But amazingly, Alfred succeeds and Mr. Myers comes to collect. Of course, it's too good to be true. Mr. Myers kills Uncle Farrell and takes the sword. Alfred ends up in foster care anyway, after a visit from Mr. Samson, who reveals that the sword is Excalibur. Not only that, but Mr. Samson and the knights are descended from the Knights of the Round Table, sworn to keep Excalibur from the hands of evil men. Now that they have failed, Mr. Myers will try to sell the sword to the highest bidder because, "an army with the Sword at its head would be invincible."
Increasingly disturbed, Alfred begins to research the origins of the sword, and starts skipping school. He discovers he is being followed, and contacts his tail, one of the knights named, Bennacio. Bennacio tells him that Mr. Samson was killed trying to recapture the sword, and Alfred begins to realize the monumental events he put into motion. He and Bennacio continue the quest together, saving each other's lives, and taking the lives of others. The story becomes quite violent, in Alfred's words, "There had been more blood flying around than in a horror movie." Bennacio, filled with fury from Mr. Samson's death, wreaks some vengeance on the AODs, agents of darkness, who are chasing them. Interestingly, Alfred is disturbed by needless violence. Later in the novel, when offered the chance, Alfred refuses violence unless his life or another's is at stake.
Wonderful Christian imagery and ideas are laced throughout the story. The sword is purported to have been the sword of St. Michael. When outnumbered by AODs or "thralls of the dragon," Bennacio begins praying the Hail Mary in Latin aloud. Alfred asks what to do at another point, and Bennacio says, "Pray!" The most important thing in Bennacio's life is the sacred vow he took to protect the sword, even if he must die to do so. Bennacio asks Alfred to take the same vow, but Alfred thinks he is unworthy, saying, "I'm just...average...The idea of me taking up your sword and being some kind of hero--well, that's kind of ridiculous." Bennacio responds, "But we fall only that we might rise, Alfred. All of us fall; all of us, as you say, screw up. Falling is not important. It is how we get up after the fall that's important...And as for being a hero--who can say what valor dwells in every heart, Alfred, waiting for the dragon to come out."
Unfortunately, there isn't more I can say without giving away the ending. The ending is better than you'd ever expect, coming full circle. I loved reading this book, and there were only a few things that made it less than perfect. One is the single instance of Uncle Farrell threatening to put Alfred "on so much antidepressant dope, I wouldn't remember to sit when I crapped. Uncle Farrell could be gross like that." And the other is some rather gruesome depictions of violence and killings. Overall, this book has a great background in mythology, a captivating plot, and a true hero, not the "superhero" type, but one who makes the right choices.