A neverending story: Sword at Sunset

Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword at Sunset (1963)

Can a story still be compelling when we already know how it ends? In the case of the Arthurian legend, the appeal never seems to wane. Something about this doomed hero, who will be betrayed by friend and wife and sister and son, yet still strives for goodness and truth, continues to fascinate us through many generations of retellings. To hear of the nobility of the human soul, its unfulfilled yet undying promise, never becomes old — unless we ourselves have succumbed to the dark.

In Sword at Sunset, Rosemary Sutcliff knows we know how the story goes — she begins with Arthur’s end, as he lays dying and contemplating the course of his life. Artos, rather, for this is a version which places the legend shortly after the withdrawal of the Roman legions from Britain, and imagines the hero as a Roman-trained war leader battling the Saxon hordes who are descending on his small island. And it’s her detailed, thoroughly imagined world and characters that make this particular retelling compelling indeed. The tale may be old, but here it comes to vivid life again, with a raw, elemental edge that makes it feel convincing, almost essential. “Yes, it must have been like this,” we feel.

Emerging from Sutcliff’s story-spell, we may realize the “real” Arthur will likely always elude us, that there are flaws in her historical research (a Goodreads review put these into one word: stirrups) and that her Artos, Gwenhumara, Medraut and Bedwyr are figments of the writer’s imagination. But that doesn’t keep them from becoming lodged in our hearts and living on, as surely as Arthur sleeps in Avalon.

Sutcliff strips away the medieval trappings of the legend and tries to return to some of its earliest roots. No grail quests or visions of the Virgin here; Christianity itself has not fully taken hold in Britain, and while respecting and trying to protect the monasteries threatened by the Saxon invasion, Artos gives allegiance to an older mystery. Those old, chthonic forces are not always benign, and Artos falls prey to them through the malice of his half-sister, who begets a son on him to serve her hate.

This dark thread winds through the story of Artos’s military rise and triumph; it poisons his marriage to the tribal princess Guenhumara, rendering it fruitless and marked by death. With that energy at work, it is inevitable that betrayal by his captain and friend, Bedwyr, will come in to complete the misery. How three people can love each other so deeply and yet hurt each other so much has seldom been so movingly rendered. Sutcliff can write thrillingly of battle and adventure, yet this inward drama is the emotional center of the novel, and will stay with me for a long time.

Medraut, the product of Artos’s youthful error, is also more than a cartoon villain. “He is a destroyer,” Artos says, one who has fallen into the love of killing for its own sake rather than for any higher cause. But he is also a victim, a human soul warped by being raised in an atmosphere of hatred, trapped in a cycle of trauma and abuse. Could this evil have been redeemed and healed, rather than bringing about disaster?

Artos is troubled by this question on this deathbed, but he must go into the night without an answer. Maybe it is for us, Arthur’s heirs, to continue to try to find a way to rekindle the light of love even in the face of such determined opposition. Maybe that’s why this story will never end, will continue to intrigue and inspire us.

[book-info]

Witch Week Day Five: The Discovery of King Arthur (Guest Post)

Another blogger who responded to my call for Witch Week posts was Katie of Doing Dewey, who reads and reviews all kinds of books but has a particular love for nonfiction. Along with posting several book reviews from various genres every week she runs a weekly feature, Nonfiction Friday, where you can get the latest nonfiction news, share your posts about nonfiction books, and find other readers who love nonfiction. Katie is also one of my fellow co-hosts for Nonfiction November, currently taking place this month.

She offered to review The Discovery of King Arthur by Geoffrey Ashe (first published in 1985), and though she can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, it does sound like it contains many fascinating facts that invite further exploration. Read on for an intriguing preview…

[divider]

The Discovery of King Arthur

By Katie Wilkins

The Arthur legend has captivated people since at least the middle ages and continues to fascinate us today. From new bookish retellings to TV shows, this is a story people tell again and again. In The Discovery of King Arthur, historian Geoffrey Ashe explores the possibility that a historical figure inspired the myth and considers what cultural factors give this myth its enduring appeal.

For me, the experience of reading this book was hit or miss — 3 of 5 stars. Sometimes the author would share a relevant snippet of history, told in narrative form. Those bits could be extremely entertaining. They read like a story and often contained delightful, absurd anecdotes that made me laugh. Other parts that focused on the dissection of old texts were too dry for me. I’d definitely not recommend this book as a first experience with nonfiction, for fear it might put people off the genre. However, if you’re willing to persevere through some dry sections to learn more about an intriguing topic, this could be the book for you.

To give you an idea of what you might expect, I’ll leave you with some of the fun facts that stuck with me from this book. No spoilers on the answer to the question of Arthur’s basis in reality 🙂

  • The same text that is the source of many key parts of the Arthur myth also inspired Shakespeare’s Lear
  • Vortigern, a villain of the Arthurian legend, did have some roots in history, although Vortigern was not a name. Rather, it is Celtic for “overking”
  • The author suggests that the Arthur legend was born out of a 5th century hope for a “world restorer’, someone who would rebuild the empire. This constant hope led one poet to write hyperbolic paeans to no fewer than 3 emperors he thought were ‘the one’ in his lifetime.
  • One of the sources referenced by the main text this book analyzes was written by a monk who wrote a little bit about history, but was mostly just grumpy about how politicians in his day were ruining everything.
  • Scholars were debating when/if Arthur lived as early as the 13th century
  • Some authors, such as T.H. White, opposed the search for a historical basis for the Arthur myth on the grounds that it would reduce a great story to a disappointing reality

And there’s more where that came from, so if you enjoyed those tidbits, consider picking up The Discovery of King Arthur to learn more!

Katie’s blog bio says, “I love reading in every genre, but my favorites lately have been nonfiction, historical fiction, and literary fiction. I’m particularly passionate about nonfiction because I feel like the genre doesn’t get enough love from readers, even though there are nonfiction books to suit any interest. When I’m not blogging, you’ll find me playing computer games with friends, going on hikes, working as a computational biologist, and doing photography.”

Witch Week Day Four: A Gallery of Arthurian Art

With so many magical and dramatic characters and scenes to explore, the Arthurian legend has long been a rich source of inspiration for artists and illustrators. To complement our literary studies, I thought it would be fun this year to look at some pictures as well. Here are a few images that caught my eye, all drawn from The Camelot Project, a great resource for anyone interested in the subject.

 

Arthur Rackham – How a Maiden Bare in the Sangreal

 

H.J. Ford – Excalibur Returns to the Mere

 

The High Mysterious Call – Willy Pogany

 

Julia Margaret Cameron – Vivien Enchants Merlin

 

He gave him such a buffet on the helm – W. Russell Flint

 

Max Harshberger – Tristan Harping

 

Aubrey Beardsley – How Four Queens Found Launcelot Sleeping

 

Edward Burne-Jones – The Sleep of King Arthur in Avalon

 

Gustave Dore – The Enchanter and His Book

 

William Holman Hunt – The Lady of Shalott

Do you have favorite Arthurian artists or works of art? Please share them in the comments!

Witch Week Day One: Rex Futurus (Guest Post)

This year, I’m delighted that Chris of Calmgrove, an Arthurian scholar and frequent Witch Week contributor, agreed to give his personal perspective on Arthurian literature, a genre that has sometimes annoyed him with its forays into bad history and bad fiction — but has also given him much pleasure, especially in the more adventurous “freestyle” treatments of the legend that attempt to take us out of our comfort zones. In his survey of some of the 20th century titles he finds worth reading (and a few he doesn’t), he’s named some fascinating-sounding books I’ve never heard of, and I can’t wait to try to track them down. Read on, and see what treasures you will find.

[divider]

Rex Futurus

by Chris Lovegrove

I have a confession: I’m not a fan of Arthurian fiction. There, I’ve said it. Why so? It comes from a half century of involvement in Arthurian matters, from archaeological research to editing a society journal, during which I came into forced contact with innumerable theories about ‘rex quondam’ in fiction, in non-fiction and creative non-fiction. Some were plausible, most were speculative, and whole libraries of them were, frankly, preposterous. So in a way I’m the last person to be enthusiastic about this particular literary genre.

And yet, there are aspects I delight in. In amongst the many servings of clichéd tropes, there are gems that catch the eye. Three overlapping areas I’ve noticed concern the King himself, Merlin and the Grail, so I shall divide this discussion into these three sections. Also, along the spectrum shading from history to legend is another axis taking us from an imagined past to a future via a notional ‘present.’ To keep things a little focused I shall confine myself to the 20th century; needless to say this is neither a comprehensive survey nor an impersonal one.

First come novels about a historical Arthur. There has been no end of bad retellings of Dark Age Britain, full of anachronisms and false premises, but I have great respect for early exponents of this subgenre, such as Rosemary Sutcliff in her Sword at Sunset (1963) and Henry Treece in The Great Captains (1956). I also liked the latter’s The Green Man (1966), an interesting attempt to meld the barbaric lives of Arthur and the Danish hero Amleth (better known to us as Hamlet). Meanwhile, the legend of the sleeping king is a particularly fecund source for fantasy, for example Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Bringamen (1960), William Mayne’s Earthfasts (1966) and Jane Louise Curry’s The Sleepers (1969). Lest you think I’m stuck in the sixties I should mention a notable freestyle rex futurus in Mike W Barr and Brian Bolland’s graphic novel Camelot 3000 (1982-4) which transposed Arthur and his revived medieval warriors into an SF future.

Merlin frequently gets a wake-up call too. C S Lewis’ science fantasy novel That Hideous Strength (1945, revised 1955) has the redivivus wizard fighting evil forces, while Peter Dickinson’s The Changes Trilogy (1969-70) ascribes disturbances in modern Britain to Merlin himself. Álvaro Cunqueiro’s gentle 1955 novel, translated as Merlin and Company in 1996, sets Merlin in rural Galicia, in a part of Spain with historical links to insular Celtic lands. Like the king, Merlin often gets the speculative fiction treatment, though my memory of Andre Norton’s Merlin’s Mirror (1975) is that the fantasy and the SF didn’t gel too well.

When we come to the Grail treatments of the object become even more imaginative. Arthur Machen’s novella The Great Return (1915) put the relic in an authentically Welsh setting, contrasting with Chuck Dixon’s so-so graphic novel Batman: The Chalice (1999) where the cup is sent to Bruce Wayne’s Gotham City mansion because the playboy is descended from Sir Gawain. Religious associations remained in Charles Williams’ War in Heaven (1930), but by the sixties native paganism had asserted itself, as in Alan Garner’s Elidor (1965) and Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone (also 1965).

I have to say though that my favourites among all this re-envisioning are what I call freestyle treatments. Where to start? I’ll begin with Antal Szerb’s genre-crossing The Pendragon Legend (1934) with its nods to horror, spies, mysteries and the supernatural. Children’s authors are brilliant at riffing with Arthurian elements: take John Masefield’s The Midnight Folk (1927) with its youngster Kay Harker encountering Arthurian characters (or does he?), Joan Aiken’s The Stolen Lake (1981) set in an alternate history South America, or Diana Wynne Jones’ Hexwood (1993) and The Merlin Conspiracy (2003), both of which pluck their motifs out of context to create new and original plotlines.

As a general rule I look askance at pretentious novels that include key words like Excalibur and Camelot in their titles; I’m even more sceptical of supposedly factual publications that include the words “the real” or “the truth about” in combination with “Arthur,” king or otherwise. Not only do these “histories” contradict each other, their arguments are usually badly presented; they even fail to invite my willing suspension of disbelief, that defining characteristic of a good piece of fiction. Quite frankly I’d class these all as Bad Fiction.

I’m guessing I’ve omitted your favourite authors and titles in this short survey: apologies to lovers of, for example, T H White, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Mary Stewart, Bernard Cornwell or Gillian Bradshaw, for example. But if Arthur is to have a future I feel it is one where his triumphs and tragedies aren’t just going to be re-hashed in old familiar forms; in a changing world we need to consider what relevance Arthurian themes have for our planet, our lives and our relationships. And that will inevitably take us out of our comfort zones.

Chris Lovegrove posts photos on My New Shy, micropoetry on Zenrinji and book reviews on Calmgrove. After a career in music education he now has time to lavish on more selfish pursuits like reading and reflecting on books, including those he didn’t take the time over in his youth. He now appreciates Zappa’s heartfelt cry, “So many books, so little time.”

The Wolves Chronicles, Part Two

Joan Aiken, The Stolen Lake (1981)
Joan Aiken, Dangerous Games (1998)

StolenLakeFor my next installment of a series of posts considering Joan Aiken’s “Wolves Chronicles” (for lack of a better name, the series begun with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and mostly featuring Dido Twite as the protagonist), I’m departing slightly from my general intention of reading the series in order of publication. Instead, I’m grouping together the two books that Aiken herself published out of chronological order. After The Cuckoo Tree (1971), which concluded a five-book sequence written within a single decade, Aiken waited another decade before publishing the next book in the series. And rather than picking up the story where she had left off, with Dido’s reunion with her friend Simon in England, she went back to an adventure that happened while Dido was en route from Nantucket to England on the HMS Thrush.

And what an adventure it is! The alternative history of the first few books in the series, with their marauding packs of English wolves and dastardly Hanoverians plotting to overthrow good King James III, appears almost plausible in comparison to Aiken’s radical revisioning of history and legend in The Stolen Lake. In place of South America we have Roman Britain, colonized by an unlikely alliance of Welsh and Roman settlers in the sixth century (and somehow, some Spanish has gotten mixed in there too, as shown by name combinations like Manuel Jones and Davie Gomez). The queen of New Cumbria has summoned Captain Hughes of the Thrush to her aid, and Dido is reluctantly dragged along. There Dido makes some appalling discoveries regarding the strange absence of young girls in the land, and the peculiar preoccupations of the queen, who is awaiting the return of her husband from a very long sleep…

Aiken’s wild imagination is abundantly on display in this book, and there’s definitely not a dull moment. While I enjoyed it overall, I found it somewhat less satisfying than the earlier books. The weirdness of Welsh settlers wearing togas amid Incan ruins is certainly original, but doesn’t quite gel into any meaningful cross-cultural satire, and the return-of-the-king plot ends up somewhat buried in the mishmash of different elements. The exuberant storytelling pulls us along, but at the end we may scratch our heads and think, “What was that?” The highlight, for me, was the series of brief stories told to Dido by the mysteriously appearing and disappearing minstrel Bran. Open-ended, ambiguous, and disconcerting, they raise the narrative above the ranks of mere page-turners.

DangerousGamesA full seventeen years later, after writing about Dido’s return to England and some of her further adventures, Aiken decided to go back and chronicle another episode from her sea voyage in Dangerous Games (Limbo Lodge in the UK). Here, we have an even more exotic location in the vaguely Indonesian island of Aratu, where Dido and co. are sent to find an English aristocrat who has been looking for games to help heal ailing King Jamie. I found this the weakest installment so far; besides the far-fetched premise, it has an unfocused story that wanders all over the place amid a cast of unconvincing pidgin-speaking natives with mysterious superpowers. The title seems to promise a kind of gaming showdown, but that never materializes; in spite of the “dangers” of Aratu there’s a strange lack of conflict and character development. This is one episode that even rabid fans of Dido could skip, in my opinion.

After this interlude in foreign climes, I’m definitely ready to go back to England with Dido and Pa. I find that Aiken’s imaginative world works best when it’s founded in her own culture and language, upon which she can ring changes like nobody else.

Read for the RIP X Challenge hosted by The Estella Society

[book-info]

Quick Quotes: The Crystal Cave

Arthurian Mary Stewart Merlin

“But there’s nothing in this world that I’m not ready to see and learn, and no god that I’m not ready to approach in his own fashion. I told you that truth was the shadow of God. If I am to use it, I must know who He is. Do you understand me?”

“How could I? What god are you talking about?”

“I think there is only one. Oh, there are gods everywhere, in the hollow hills, in the wind and the sea, in the very grass we walk on and the air we breathe, and in the bloodstained shadows where men like Belasius wait for them. But I believe there must be one who is God Himself, like the great sea, and all the rest of us, small gods and men and all, like rivers, we all come to Him in the end.”

Merlin, to his servant Cadal in The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart

A Magical Library: The Bodleian’s Magical Tales

Larrington and Purkiss, eds., Magical Tales (2013)

My one visit to Oxford was long ago as an 18-year-old on a choir tour of England. Our chaperones normally kept a pretty tight rein on us, but for some reason this time they actually let us roam around by ourselves for a while. I was in literary heaven. I visited Blackwell’s bookstore, found “Alice’s Shop” (the model for the sheep’s shop in Through the Looking Glass), and ended up at the Bodleian Library which had a wonderful exhibition of children’s books from the Opie collection. It was truly a magical day for a bookaholic teenager, and I still remember it fondly.

Last year I found out that the Bodleian was having another exhibition that sorely tempted me to fly across the Atlantic once more. Magical Books: From the Middle Ages to Middle Earth featured artifacts related to the work of some of my favorite authors, including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, and Alan Garner, known as the “Oxford School” for their ties to the university. Along with ancient scrolls and manuscripts from the Bodleian collection that are known or presumed to have inspired their work, there were artifacts from the authors themselves, such as Lewis’s hand-drawn map of Narnia, Tolkien’s dust jacket design for The Two Towers, and a set of replicas of the Six Signs of Power made for Susan Cooper.

Alas, I wasn’t able to make it in person, but the Bodleian did put up images of many of the exhibited item on their website, which you can still view here. They also produced a companion book called Magical Tales: Myth, Legend and Enchantment in Children’s Books, which I promptly purchased. It is a lovely high-quality paperback, about 7 inches square, with a nice, heavy wraparound cover (I love these because I can use them instead of a bookmrak), excellent layout and typography, and beautifully reproduced full-color images. So just as a physical object, the book is certainly a success.

Content-wise, the book contains five academic essays. The first is a general consideration of “magical books,” which can refer both to ancient books of spells and alchemy and to modern fantasy literature about magical happenings. The next three essays take on three areas of influence and inspiration for children’s writers, particularly those of the “Oxford School”: Northern mythology, the Middle Ages, and Arthurian legend. The final essay looks at the book itself as a magical, transforming object, in the form of early movable books for children. With a generally readable, engaging style, each essay gives a decent overview of its respective topic. Sometimes I wished for a bit more depth, as the essays tend to briefly survey a lot of books without going much into any one of them, but there isn’t really space for that in this small, heavily illustrated book. (Note that those illustrations include some drawn from the Bodleian exhibition, but not all; it’s not a “catalogue” of the exhibition. The map, dust jacket, and replica signs mentioned above, for example, are not included.)

So, for some armchair traveling into the sources of my favorite magical books, Magical Tales was a great investment, and a lot cheaper than a plane ticket. If you share my love of these fantasy classics, you might want to take a look at it too.

[book-info]

Beautiful Books: The Dark Is Rising

Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone (1965)

Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising (1973)

Susan Cooper, Greenwitch (1974)

Susan Cooper, The Grey King (1975)

Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree (1976)

 

 

There are very few living authors who have not just one title, but an entire series of books given the Folio Society treatment. So when I learned that the Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper, one of my favorite fantasy series of all time, was available in beautiful new Folio editions, I was thrilled! And I was not disappointed in my investment: these are lovely books in every way.

The juxtaposition of the strange and the everyday is what I believe gives the sequence its distinctive appeal. In spare yet vivid prose, Cooper evokes the details of a specific place and way of life — whether a Cornish fishing village, a small Buckinghamshire town, or a Welsh sheep farm—with utter conviction, and then with equal conviction opens our eyes to the mythological depths that underlie every mundane moment: the great battle between the Light and the Dark. Introduced already in Over Sea, Under Stone, but handled with increasing mastery as the sequence progresses, it’s a mix that I found completely enchanting as a ten-year-old, and still do today.

The sequence is a masterpiece of atmosphere, with scenes that are creepy, homely, sordid, domestic, heartbreakingly lovely, and  uncanny by turns. When we have glimpses of ancient myth and folklore (Wayland Smith, Herne the Hunter–even Arthur himself), they remain appropriately veiled and mysterious, as the deep past must always be to us, caught as we are in the cage of modernity. This is one of the touches that Cooper gets just right.

When Cooper’s own inventions are interpolated, as in Greenwitch, they are equally evocative and haunting — true in a deep archetypal sense, if not in actual fact. She reveals in her preface to the Folio edition that the Greenwitch — an image that has for centuries been made and thrown into the sea by the women of a Cornish village — is her own creation and no such custom exists in this precise form. This does not prevent readers from writing to her or even journeying to Cornwall in search of the “real” Greenwitch. (Note that these prefaces by the author contain many such fascinating details, but should be skipped by any first-time reader who wants to avoid spoilers.)

Crafting an ending to such an epic is difficult. Having lived through so much with these characters, suffering and striving with them, it’s hard not to feel betrayed when we are returned to our everyday lives, no more to join the transcendent circle of the Light. But the experience has changed us, and lives within, and thus can never truly end. This is the mark of a superior work of fiction, to my mind.

The Folio editions have spines bound in buckram, a different jewel-toned color for each book, with Modigliani paper sides each printed with a complementary design by the artist, Laura Carlin. Each book also includes eight full-color illustrations printed on the heavy, textured Modigliani paper. The books are a good size for holding in the hand, and typeset in the slightly jagged, antique-looking typeface Elysium, which is nevertheless eminently readable. As with all Folio books, they come accompanied by a protective slipcase, in this case dark gray to match the endpapers of each volume.

The illustrations, done in rich, glowing colors without sharp lines, occasionally jar against my personal inner images, especially in the depiction of the figures, which sometimes have strange proportions or odd expressions. In general, though, I find them a fine complement to the text. Because they are not too narrowly representational, they evoke a mood rather than making a photographic record, leaving room for ambiguity and mystery. Like the stories themselves, they have beauty without sentimentality, a sustaining faith in light and love that nevertheless can look clear-eyed at darkness and cruelty. That is what I prize about the Dark Is Rising sequence, and I’m glad that these marvelous books have been put into a form that is worthy of their content.

[book-info]

Arthurian Africa? Two novels by Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein, The Winter Prince (1993)
Elizabeth Wein, The Sunbird (2006)

Elizabeth Wein has an unusual take on the Arthurian legend in her Lion Hunters series. She starts out in The Winter Prince focusing on Medraut (Mordred in other versions), who is usually portrayed in a fairly one-sided and unsympathetic way as the villain of the tale. Wein’s Medraut, though, is a complicated man with great capacities for love, sacrifice, and healing as well as cruelty and vengeance. He is tormented by his tainted origins, by his horrible mother Morgause, and by his stifled potential for kingship; he must work his way painfully to a realization of where his true loyalties lie.

Further complicating things, Wein has given Artos (Arthur) two legitimate children, daughter Goewin and her twin brother Lleu. (In this version of the tale, there is no Lancelot, and Artos’s wife Ginevra is a mature and sensible woman with a talent for mapmaking.) Lleu, the heir to the throne, is a sickly child, but with Medraut’s help he grows in strength and skill. No one, however, can give him the indefinable quality that has allowed Artos to hold his fragile kingdom together, and Goewin and Medraut both suffer from knowing that either of them would be a better ruler.

Wein creates an absorbing picture of sixth-century Britain and the brave, stubborn people who must have survived in that harsh land: charismatic but very human Artos, bright and frustrated Goewin, and the brilliant, flawed Lleu. As a window into Medraut’s soul, the first-person narration is both compelling and disturbing. Indeed, it must be said that with its scenes (described or implied) of incest, torture, and attempted murder, this book is not for the squeamish, nor for younger readers, however it may be marketed. But it intrigued me enough to want more.

Warning: spoilers for the second book, A Coalition of Lions, follow.

In later books, action moves to the African kingdom of Aksum (Ethiopia), a place that was briefly glimpsed in The Winter Prince as Medraut reminisced about his travels, when he formed ties with the noble Kidane and his beautiful daughter Turunesh. Following the collapse of Artos’s kingdom (told about in A Coalition of Lions), Medraut and Goewin both move to Aksum, where Goewin becomes the British Ambassador and Medraut rejoins Turunesh. The Sunbird centers on their son, Telemakos, born after Medraut returned to Britain. An odd, engaging and precocious child, his talents for hiding and listening are called on by his aunt, Goewin, to foil a plot by greedy merchants that would bring plague to Aksum. In so doing, he is tested to the limit (more torture, here very graphically described indeed); but will his suffering allow his father to finally exorcise some of the demons of his own past?

It is in The Sunbird that Wein perfects a laconic style that uses telling details to convincingly place us in a country that never was, but should have been. As the tense and thrilling plot unfolds, we become ever more emotionally invested in her wonderfully diverse characters, and more enchanted with the rich, highly cultured but dangerous land of Aksum. Fortunately, a pair of linked novels about Telemakos follow: The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom.

The new e-book versions from Open Road Media are a joy to read: impeccably transferred to digital format, with attractive new covers, and adding a lengthy biography of the author (with photos). The Winter Prince also includes illustrations but gives no credit for the illustrator; the drawings are somewhat amateurish in appearance, and I wonder if they are actually by the author. I do not remember them from the print version. Anybody have a solution to this mystery?

[book-info]