Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Mark of Solomon

Consisting of The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom, by Elizabeth Wein.

I think I've mentioned this series before, but Wein takes the Arthurian mythos in a direction completely her own. The Winter Prince, the first book, is about Arthur's children in Britain, but A Coalition of Lions, The Sunbird, The Lion Hunter, and The Empty Kingdom are all set in and around Aksum (what is now called Ethiopia). These aren't precisely fantasy in the sense of having (overt) magic, but they are fantastic historical fiction.

The Mark of Solomon, especially The Empty Kingdom, is intense. In fact, I find the size of all Wein's books to be deceptive: there is little that could be called excess, or unnecessary to the story. They are dense and exciting. The Mark of Solomon, which the author refers to as The Adolescence of Telemakos, is rendered in a tight third-person from Telemakos' perspective, although there are a few brief interludes from someone else's point of view, and concerns his coming-of-age. In A Coalition of Lions and The Sunbird, he was shown to be a quiet, canny child, and we see here how he grows to assume adult responsibilities.

I particularly noticed in reading these two books how all three titles can be interpreted in several different ways. In addition, there is almost nothing I can point to and say "That should have been fixed"; my only complaint is that the second book is so intense, it perhaps could have used some comedic relief. You will probably want to have it, and sufficient time in which to read it, at hand before reading the last few pages of the first book.

In short: Great, intense historical fiction. Highly recommended. Refreshingly clean, too, although some heavy issues such as torture are referred to, more so in The Sunbird than here.


Anonymous said...

Oh, huzzah, you've reviewed it! Now I want to read these books more than ever.

Also, you really must read D.M. Cornish's Foundling, first in the "Monster Blood Tattoo" series. Lamplighter, the second book, is due out this month and I am going nuts with anticipation. He's a Christian author (though there's nothing overtly allegorical about his worldbuilding so far) and I enjoyed the first book enormously.

Joshua said...

Yes, I figured I had better post this one before the book got too old. It was much easier to finish this review than ones for other books, for some reason, probably because I was gushing a little. I also read the second book really fast and late at night, so I might have overlooked other faults. But the series is really good, so I doubt it. ;)

Thanks for the recommendation, too. I've had Monster Blood Tattoo on my mental list (but not my physical one) for a while, since I saw it on the shelving cart, but I haven't gotten to it, partly because I was waiting for the other two books to come out. I'll probably check it out sooner, though, since you mentioned it. A boy named Rosemary, or whatever his name is, is a pretty good hook.

Joshua said...

The problem with reviewing new books, also, is that one often has to shell out money for them. I'm still waiting for the library to get Alma Alexander's Spellspam (came out in March), and they just got Haydon's The Assassin King a couple months ago, when it came out closer to a year ago. Sometimes they are really fast, but sometimes they aren't. (It also seems like requests for books that are in cataloging are satisfied nigh unto instantly, but it might just be a coincidence.)