Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Review - Song of the Sparrow / Lisa Ann Sandell

Summary - The year is 490 AD. Fiery 16-year-old Elaine of Ascolat, the daughter of one of King Arthur's supporters, lives with her father on Arthur's base camp, the sole girl in a militaristic world of men. Elaine's only girl companion is the mysterious Morgan, Arthur's older sister, but Elaine cannot tell Morgan her deepest secret: She is in love with Lancelot, Arthur's second-in-command. However, when yet another girl -- the lovely Gwynivere-- joins their world, Elaine is confronted with startling emotions of jealousy and rivalry. But can her love for Lancelot survive the birth of an empire?

Review - I am usually adverse to verse but having read two amazing verse novels this week, I am about to pull an about face. Song of the Sparrow was an absolute joy to read - lyrical, poetic, inspiring and wrenching. Drawing upon the stories of Arthur, Lancelot and Merlin, Sandell has strongly integrated the inspiration for Tennyson's poem, the Lady of Shalott, into the mix. Elaine (the "Lady" in question) has been raised in the war camps of 5th century Britain, by her widowed father amongst battle weary men. She's loved and respected by these men whilst operating within the confines of what was expected of woman of the day - washing and mending.

It reads like an absolute dream. The phrasing is so fluid, so rhythmic, that it rolls off of the page and seeps into your consciousness. Elaine is a strong character, aware of her obligations, supremely concerned for the welfare of those that she loves and in possession of great courage. She's a character that is immediately relatable, likeable and enviable. I personally loved the depiction of Gwynivere as a shrew preying on the attentions of men. She's the one character of Arthur lore that I have always found tedious and while she's initially portrayed as a 5th century 'mean girl', there is also surprising depths to be found in her. This can be said of all the characters, both those that are familiar and new, they are constructed to be both complex and clear in motivation. It's the epitome of exact phrasing and plotting within a story while taking you on a winding story.

Despite the fantastic economy of words in this novel, the characterisation and plotting, this novel presents many themes and adventure for the readers to delve into. Sandell explores grief, family unity, gender roles, the nature of love, friendship, infatuation, duty, courage and sacrifice all while grounding Elaine's story with her obvious love of verse and legend.


Published: May 2007
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: Scholastic
Origin: USA
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a flight of minds said...

This story sounds absolutely wonderful. I've seen it around but never really picked it up. Now I think I will. I don't know much about anything to do with King Arthur and that time period (besides Avalon High by Meg Cabot :P) but it seems like an amazing read. Thanks for the great review!

- Alex

Natalie Hatch said...

This sounds wonderful, will have to keep an eye out for it.

Thao said...

The idea of the book is so awesome. Now I know that it's written in verse, I'm even more appealed.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

I adored this book-it was one of my favorite reads last year. I'm so glad you liked it and gave it a try. I really think Lisa Ann Sandell excells at writing in verse.

prophecygirl said...

This sounds absolutely brilliant. Thanks for the review Adele!