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holy-grail-round-table-bnf-ms_fr-116f-f610v-15th-detail

King Arthur and his knights of the round table with the holy grail – Évrard d’Espinques (c. 1475)

 

The legend of King Arthur and his knights has had a profound impact on English literature. From Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1485) , to Mark Twain’s satirical novel: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), to modern day examples such as the television show Merlin (2008 – 2012), the tales of King Arthur and his knights is far from facing extinction. Lisa Ann Sandell’s novel Song of the Sparrow (2007) is yet another addition to the Arthurian canon. Told in lyrical verse, Sandell reworks the story of “The Lady of Shalott” for the enjoyment of a modern young adult audience.

How I came across the book: I went to a community book fair around eight years ago, and I just so happened to find this book. Its unique lyrical structure intrigued me, and so I added it to my collection.

Plot Summary

Elaine of Ascolat is the daughter of a soldier in Arthur Pendragon’s army. She is used to the rhythm of war and the bloodshed. Even though she is the only girl in a world dominated by men, she proves herself to be an invaluable healer. Elaine spends her time daydreaming of  Lancelot, Arthur’s second-in-command, whom she is in love with. When beautiful Gwynivere, Arthur’s betrothed, arrives at the camp, Lancelot falls madly in love with her. Gwynivere proves herself to be cruel and cold to Elaine, and the two of them become rivals. As the Saxon army closes in on Arthur’s army, Elaine and Gwynievere must set aside their differences and work together. The fate of Arthur’s army depends on them…

About the Book

 

Title: Song of the Sparrow

Author: Lisa Ann Sandell

Series: N/A

Year Published: 2007

Pages: 383

 The Review

lady_of_shalott

The Lady of Shalott (1888) – John William Waterhouse

 

The story of Elaine of Ascolat is a reworking of Lord Tennyson’s tragic poem “The Lady of Shalott.” Apparently, the author received the idea for this book when she visited an art gallery in London where she saw The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse (pictured left) [1.] Song of the Sparrow alters the original legend and allows for readers to understand the story from Elaine’s point of view.

 

Whenever one thinks of the legend of King Arthur, damsels in distress are always featured in the backdrop. All women are “supposed” to be damsels in distress, while men are “supposed” to be gallant heroes. The best thing about Sandell’s reimagining is that she gives Elaine her own strength. Elaine’s job as a healer makes her an invaluable part of the army rather than just a pretty thing to look at. In Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, Elaine’s entire story describes how she falls in love with Lancelot, and is eventually tossed aside by him in favor of Gwynivere. Song of the Sparrow provides character depth for Elaine, as well as it provides a plot line that only a modern audience could appreciate.

As I had mentioned earlier, what drew me to this novel was its lyrical  style. Many Arthurian legends were initially poems or songs, so Song of the Sparrow fits in well. The issue I have with Sandell’s lyrical style is that occasionally the lines do not appear to flow very well. I am not a connoisseur of poetry, however, I do know that there must be some measure of flow. The book occasionally teeters on the edge of poetry and choppy prose. Some descriptions are absolutely beautiful, and then there are some parts that fall flat.

I would recommend this book to those who are passionate about Arthurian legends. While the quality of the lyrical style falls flat in places, overall it is redeemed by its captivating story. Although the book is 383 pages, it is a quick and easy read.

This book can be purchased on amazon.com

Final grade: B

[1.] – Lisa Ann Sandell talking about Song of the Sparrow

 

-Alice

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