Shalott, by Felicity Pulman

The scene was familiar: the stone walls of the tower, the ladies in their long dresses, the men in tunics and breeches. Callie pinched the soft flesh under her forearm. Hard. It hurt. She was one of the ladies, then. So were Meg and El. Real. Breathing. Just like the two guys with them.

Callie is fascinated by her father’s virtual reality machine. She wonders if she could use it to visit Camelot and change its history. But as she works on her program she is interrupted by her sister El and her friend Meg who want to be part of the game – they want to be characters at Camelot too. In spite of her misgivings, Callie finds herself adding the pair and, finally, two boys they barely know – Lev the street-kid and Stephen, a loud snob. It is all a game that Callie feels is getting out of hand, being spoilt by her pushy sister. But she has no idea just how out of hand this game will get when she is bumped and accidentally pushes the button that draws all five teens into the machine and back into the very real world of Camelot.

At Camelot each of the teens faces a range of challenges. Callie must overcome her timidity to stand up to El, and also wants to use her time in Camelot to win Lancelot’s heart and thus prevent the downfall of Camelot. El must learn to set aside her jealousies and insecurities, while Meg learns where her talents lie. For the two boys the challenges are greater. Lev learns to belong and to be brave while Stephen learns what it means to have friends. In the meantime all must adapt to life in Arthurian times and to the thought that they might be stuck here forever. There are no virtual reality machines in Camelot to take them back to their own time.

Shalott is an intriguing time-travel story. Combining the ultra-modern concept of virtual reality with the medieval world of King Arthur and his court provides a setting and storyline which teen readers will be drawn into. There is much here to appeal to fans of fantasy, lovers of history, and gaming devotees – in fact any teen who loves a good story. Whilst the teens all learn about themselves and their relationships, the reader doesn’t feel lectured or moralised to – this growth and self-exploration is intertwined with a gripping story, not thrust into the reader’s face as can sometimes happen with YA stories.

Shalott is an outstanding read, and readers will look forward to its two sequels eagerly.

Shalott, by Felicity Pulman
Random House, 2001 (reprinted in 2004)