Review - Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell

Current Theme Song (aka what's playing on my ipod right now): On My Own by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil [Les Miserables soundtrack].

Based off a famous poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, this is the story of the Lady of Shallot, a minor character in the King Arthur legends that takes center stage in Lisa Ann Sandell's Song of the Sparrow (there is a beautiful rendition done by Loreena McKennit, which you can listen to here).

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann Sandell
Current Amazon Rank: # 130,529
Published: May 2007
Pages: 394

The First Line:

I am both.
But I have brothers,
nay, hudreds
of brothers.

My Take: Elaine is the only girl in a camp of hundreds of men, but she likes it this way. She thinks of them as her brothers and she mends their clothes and finds herbs to heal them when they come back from fighting. She waits for them, but she is not weak by any means. This kind of accuracy is one of the reasons this story really stood out for me. She was strong but not in sword-wielding-kick-butt sort of way. This girl has courage. But everything changes when a new girl comes into the camp, betrothed to Arthur. She thinks she has found a friend. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

This story is something very familiar, yet different. Having loved interpretations of Arthurian legends, I have lurked among such works as The Mists of Avalon, T.A Barron's Merlin series, The Once and Future King, the list goes on. I especially like the re-imaginings with the women being portrayed stronger than their original source material (let's just admit it. They got the short end of the stick in these legends). Take for example the original tale of Elaine (our intrepid heroine). She falls in love with Lancelot on first sight, and then dies of a broken heart when he rejects her. Goodness, talk about tough love. Morgan Le Fay (Arthur's half sister) is as twisted and evil as they come, and Gwenyvere is blamed in helping bring down all of Camelot. Let's not forget Nimue who is responsible for seducing Merlin, stealing his secrets, and sealing him in a tree forever. Yeah... not a lot of love for the females here.

But luckily, Lisa Ann Sandell does a wonderful job of helping rectify this unfortunate set of historical perceptions. She makes flesh and blood people out of all the characters, and not just the women. It is fresh and vivid, and surprisingly evocative in the free verse poetry in which she writes. I am not always fond of "poetry novels" but this one really is an exception. It feels like poetry (and not just randomly set words), but is as easy to read as prose. My biggest complaint is that we did not get to see enough of her two blood brothers, and that was a dynamic I felt really should have been there. However, for having such a huge cast of characters, she did remarkably well. All of these "legendary" characters felt real to me, and I think that is one of the most important things I can say about this book. I almost wish there was a sequel (Camelot was just getting started at the end for goodness sake!) but it feels complete as it is, which leaves me a little sad. And you know that is always a good sign that the book was well worth reading.

The Final Word: Beautifully written, an interesting and new take on a minor character of the Arthurian legends, she breathes new life into these "larger than life" characters.


NotNessie said...

This has been sitting on my shelf for months. Thanks for reminding me! Great review.

Juju at Tales of said...

Interesting selection.
The way you write is so lovely and enchanting Heather.

Kiki said...

I LOVE this book, I completely agree with your final word! You explain things that I can't. :D

Heather Zundel said...

NotNessie - Ooh, you are in for a treat. And thank you.

Juju - Wow, thank you. That is such a high compliment. Enchanting. I don't think I've ever been called that before about my writing. Thank you.

Kiki - Yay! Another voice that's seen this. I'm so glad you put your two pence in. And what are you talking about? I really like your reviews. :)

pirate penguin said...

Thanks for reminding me about this book! I was curious about it but I never found many reviews for it. :) Arthurian legends=me likey :D

Heather Zundel said...

Pirate Penguin - That is exactly what I'm here for. WriterGirl - ordinary girl extraordinaire. :)

brizmus said...

This book sounds lovely, despite its flaws.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this amazing and kind and incredibly thoughtful review! I'm so honored.
- Lisa

Donna Gambale said...

Definitely looks like a great book - and the cover is gorgeous!

Heather Zundel said...

Brizmus - It really is. I think "lovely" is a perfect word for it.

Lisa Ann Sandell - What an honor it is to see you here! Thank you so much for stopping by. What a treat. Wow, the honor is all mine. I just told it as I saw it. It was a pleasure to read.

Donna Gambale - It is a good read (and fast too). And you're right, I absolutely love the cover as well.