Retro Friday is a meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville. I thought I’d give it a try this week. I first heard about Elizabeth E. Wein from Sounis members, the LJ community for Megan Whalen Turner (MWT) fans. If you’ve been reading my blog for some time, you know that I’m a huge MWT fan and I was sold as soon as someone said that the main protagonist of The Sunbird reminded them of Gen from MWT’s books. Not a lot of people know about Elizabeth E. Wein’s books and I hope to change that with this post.
Here’s the summary from Elizabeth E. Wein’s website:
Telemakos is the grandson of two noble men: Kidane, member of the imperial parliament in the African kingdom of Aksum, and Artos, the fallen High King of Britain. He is also a remarkable listener and tracker, resolute and inventive in his ability to hide in plain sight.
Now his aunt Goewin, Britain’s ambassador to Aksum, needs his skill. Deadly plague has overtaken her own country; in order to keep Aksum safe, the emperor has accepted Goewin’s advice and declared a quarantine. No one is allowed to enter or leave—yet, even with this precaution, disease and death continue to spread.
A desperate Goewin sets Telemakos a task. Alone, he must travel to Afar, where salt—the currency of sixth century Africa—is mined, and discover who has been traitor to the crown, defying the emperor’s command, spreading plague as the salt is shipped from port to port. This challenge will take all of Telemakos’s skill and strength, his ability to stay silent, and extraordinary courage; if he fails, it will cost him his life.
Ms. Wein blends Arthurian legend and sixth century Ethiopian history in her books. Telemakos, the main protagonist of this book, is the son of Medraut (Mordred, Arthur’s son). If you’re a fan of Arthurian novels, I definitely recommend Ms. Wein’s novels. But even if you aren’t, I still recommend them! I haven’t read a lot of Arthurian books and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Telemakos is such a talented child and so mature for his age. There were times when I was reading the book that I couldn’t believe he’s just a young boy. He’s a very curious person so he trained himself to be stealthy and this skill has earned him a dangerous task. This book only has around two hundred pages but all of those pages are packed with a gripping story and you won’t be able to let go until you finish the entire thing. I’m still amazed at how vibrant this story is for its length.
As with most of my favorite books, the characters in this one stand out. I remember that a member of Sounis calls Miles Vorkosigan as Gen-in-Space and I remember that Telemakos was labeled as Gen-in-Africa. Here are some of their similarities: they come from noble families, they’re both trained in stealth, they’re both highly intelligent individuals with a certain skill set and both MWT and Ms. Wein are not afraid to make their characters go through very difficult situations. I’m going to stop there because I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but rest assured that the secondary characters in this book are just as interesting as Telemakos is.
The Sunbird can be read on its own but I think it’s better to have the Mark of Solomon duology on hand because those are the next books that feature Telemakos: The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom. After reading The Sunbird, you’re going to want more of Telemakos and the rest of the characters in this book.