Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

Song of the Sparrow is based on Alfred Lord Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott, an Arthurian poem about Elaine of Ascolat. I’ve never read a novel in verse before and I thought it would be a good idea to start with this one because I like the premise. I don’t read a lot of Arthurian tales either although I remember reading Le Morte d’Arthur for English back in high school and I love Elizabeth E. Wein’s books. When I saw an inexpensive used copy from Julie’s Sari-Sari Store, I bought it right away. Thanks to Celina for the heads up on where I could find a copy.

Here’s the summary from Goodreads:

Since the days of King Arthur, there have been poems and paintings created in her name. She is Elaine of Ascolat, the Lady of Shalott, and now there is a book all her own. The year is 490 A.D. and 16-year-old Elaine has a temperament to match her fiery red hair. Living on a military base with her father, brothers, and the rest of Arthur’s army, Elaine pines for the handsome Lancelot, and longs for a female friend. But when the cruel, beautiful Gwynivere arrives, Elaine is confronted with startling emotions of jealousy and rivalry. Can Elaine find the strength to survive the birth of a kingdom?

I was swept away by the beautiful writing in Song of the Sparrow. Maybe it’s because of the verse format but it felt like I was reading a fairy tale instead of a historical fiction book. I was easily immersed in the story and I knew right from the start that Elaine and I would get along just fine. Elaine is a girl stuck in a world full of men and she can be described as “one of the boys”. Her father brought her to Arthur’s camp when her mother died and she’s been there ever since. Her father and her two brothers fight alongside the knights of Arthur and she has great respect for all of them. As the only lady in their camp, Elaine’s sewing and healing skills are in great demand. She doesn’t mind because she’s friends with most of the men in their camp and she enjoys the freedom that her lifestyle allows. What I loved about Elaine’s character in this retelling is that she manages to show her strength without picking up a sword or fighting in a battle like other fantasy heroines (not that I don’t love them). Elaine’s infatuation with Lancelot is an integral part of the story because that’s what she’s famous for but I liked how the author provided a background for it – how Lancelot was always there whenever Elaine was lonely as a child and how he comes to the rescue the few times that Elaine needs help. It isn’t a tragic kind of love, which was how it was portrayed by other writers.

I don’t read much poetry so I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to relate to this one but surprise, surprise, the pages just flew by. To get a feel of the writing, check out the excerpt available in Lisa Ann Sandell’s website. The story provided not just a clear picture of Elaine but of other well-known characters like Gwynivere, Lancelot, Tristan and Arthur. I loved seeing how Elaine interacted with all of them, even Gwynivere who is everything Elaine isn’t – beautiful, ladylike, cold and cruel. I made an excellent decision when I chose Song of the Sparrow as my first novel in verse because now I’m curious about books written in a similar format. I wonder if other novels in verse are as lovely as this one. I highly recommend this to fans of Arthurian tales, retellings or novels in verse. Or maybe I should just say, read this if you want to fall in love with an exquisite retelling about Elaine of Ascolat, the Lady of Shalott.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Book Harbinger
See Michelle Read
Persnickety Snark

19 thoughts on “Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

    • Yep, you’re absolutely right about verse novels. I agree even if I’ve only read one so far. πŸ˜› I didn’t know what I was missing! If you’re a fan of novels in verse, I have a feeling you’ll enjoy reading Song of the Sparrow, Nic.

  1. awesome review. I am SO thrilled you loved it ~ I agree, it didn;t feel as heavy on the world-building as other historical novels due to it being in verse.

    I ADORE reading novels in verse and always have. ‘m so glad you liked the whole verse thing ~ it’s brilliant for people who appreciate quality and lyrical writing.

    • Nomes, yes, exactly, not at all heavy on the worldbuilding. There was just enough description in there for readers to get an idea of the setting.

      I love lyrical writing so it looks like I need to add more novels in verse in my TBR pile.

  2. I didn’t realize this book was in verse form until I saw your Want Books post a few weeks back. I was a bit hesitant to pick it up, but I’m glad I did because I’m enjoying it so far. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done.:D

    • I can’t even remember how I found out about this book – probably through Holly or Angie. I was convinced to read it when I saw the premise. Now, I’m more curious about novels in verse and Arthurian retellings.

  3. Oh, I’m so glad you were fond of this! It does read like a fairy tale. I just love Elaine, who Is strong and manages to save the day without a sword – good point. πŸ™‚

    I think you would like Chasing Brooklyn. It’s not as lyrical but it’s on par with this as far as capturing poignant emotion. Plus you’ll love Brooklyn and Nico especially. He’s definitely a keeper.

    • I really loved the Elaine in this retelling. She’s so much better than the Elaine in other stories. Like Lisa Ann Sandell said, Elaine suffered in the hands of male authors so she decided to write her own version.

      I’ll keep Chasing Brooklyn in mind. πŸ™‚ It’s already on my wishlist, actually.

  4. Isn’t it beautiful? From the way she describes her life in the camp and all of these good, brutal men that she loves, I was swept away, like you said. And the ways in which Sandell plays with the original tale are simply awesome. I particularly like Tristan and Guinevere’s arcs.

    • It really is a lovely book. Yes, fell in love with where the author went with the story in this one. It was amazing how much was packed in a novel of this length, you get to know all of the characters through Elaine’s eyes.

  5. This book is totally new to me, but I am adding it to my TBR list after reading your review and the excerpt on Lisa Ann Sandell’s website. Verse novels are fairly new to me, but I’ve loved all of Lisa Schroeder’s books (particularly Chasing Brooklyn). The verse format seems to get straight to the raw heart of the story. Lisa’s novels feel like reading lyrical diary entries, personal and rhythmic in a beautiful way. Thank you for featuring Song of the Sparrow, I look forward to checking it out. πŸ™‚

    • Several people have recommended Chasing Brooklyn so that will probably be my next novel in verse. I just have to decide if I should get a copy already or if I should wait for it to come out in paperback. I hope you get to read Song of the Sparrow soon! It really is a great book. πŸ™‚

  6. I absolutely loved this book! I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone. I strongly think the verse writing style helped express Elaine’s emotions and her feelings toward Gwynevere and Lancelot and Tristan and everyone else. I loved the way Elaine did everything she could to help Arthur and she got (in Morgan’s words) the best gift of all. Everyone Needs To Read This Book!

    • It’s one of my favorite books in 2011 so I’m not surprised that you love it as well. πŸ™‚ I’m so glad the author decided to write Elaine’s story without the usual tragedy that accompanies Arthurian tales. I was pleasantly surprised with how the story ended. Wish I could reread this soon but there are just too many books in the TBR pile.

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