The Mark of Solomon by Elizabeth E. Wein

I think we’ve safely established that I’m a book pusher and there’s nothing I enjoy promoting more than under-the-radar books. I am constantly amazed that so many excellent books don’t get the attention that they deserve. I reviewed The Sunbird by Elizabeth E. Wein last year, hoping that more people would read her books but I haven’t been that successful because I haven’t seen reviews of that book in the past year. Also, it makes me sad that The Sunbird is now out of print. So now I feel like I need to talk about The Mark of Solomon, the duology that comes after The Sunbird, because the blogosphere seriously needs to show more Elizabeth E. Wein love.

Here’s the summary for The Lion Hunter, the first book in The Mark of Solomon duology, from the author’s website:

It is the sixth century in Aksum, Africa. Twelve-year-old Telemakos — the half Ethiopian grandson of Artos, King of Britain — is still recovering from his ordeal as a government spy in the far desert. But not all those traitors have been accounted for. Before Telemakos is fully himself again, tragedy and menace strike; for his own safety he finds himself sent, with his young sister, Athena, to live with Abreha, the ruler of Himyar — a longtime enemy of the Aksumites, now perhaps a friend. Telemakos’s aunt Goewin, Artos’s daughter, warns him that Abreha is dangerous, a man to watch carefully. Telemakos promises he will be mindful — but he does not realize that Goewin’s warnings will place him in more danger than he ever imagined.

I’ve already dubbed Telemakos as Gen-in-Africa so that should serve as enough encouragement for all Megan Whalen Turner fans out there. I originally found out about these books from Sounis, back when I didn’t have a blog and I got most of my recommendations from that community. If you have no idea what I’m talking about (shame on you!), Gen is the main character in the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner and he’s all kinds of awesome. Telemakos is young but he’s wise beyond his years. His upbringing as a half-British, half-Aksumite noble and his innate curiosity has landed him right smack in the middle of political intrigue involving several countries. I find it ironic that he has such a striking physical appearance – cinnamon-colored skin, bright blue eyes and pale hair – and yet he excels in subtlety. A line from page 11 reads: “Oh, the wealth of intrigue you heard when no one imagined you were listening.”

Elizabeth E. Wein is not afraid of letting her characters suffer and even though I’ve known from the start that Telemakos is as brave as they come, my heart goes out to him whenever something terrible happens. *huggles Telemakos* He also kept surprising me with how intelligent his strategies were. Sorry for being vague but he kept being thrown into situations where he had to make the most out of his wits if he wanted to keep himself and everyone he cares for out of harm. Also, the secondary characters in these books? They’re all so smart and complex and they keep readers guessing. You never know who’s really trustworthy. Which also paves the way for complicated relationships between the characters. I love that you can feel the love and respect that the characters have for each other but their interactions are never simple.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom should be read together because the first book ends on a major cliffhanger. I heard that they’re actually just one book that was split by the publisher, I have no idea why. The Sunbird is the first book about Telemakos and The Mark of Solomon duology continues with his journey. They’re historical fiction books set in Aksum (ancient Ethiopia), Africa but there’s a hint of Arthurian legend in them as well. Telemakos is actually the son of Medraut (Mordred) and the grandson of Artos (Arthur). So if you’re a fan of historical fiction or Arthurian tales or you just want to read books with excellent worldbuilding, multi-faceted characters and plots riddled with conspiracies then you should pick these up as soon as you can. And spread the word about them when you’re done reading.

Other reviews:
Blogging for a Good Book
By Singing Light
Sherwood Smith

The Sunbird by Elizabeth E. Wein

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.