Sandell (The Weight of the Sky) invents a unique and eloquently wrought addition to Arthurian lore in 44 verses expressing the sentiments of Lady Elaine, the subject of Tennyson's "The Lady of Shalott" and other classical legends. Here, Elaine is cast as a motherless tomboy living in Arthur's encampment with her father and two brothers. Raised amidst soldiers who are like brothers to her, she knows little of what it means to be a woman until her passion is roused by handsome Lancelot. Any hope that Lancelot may some day return her love quickly dissolves with the arrival of beautiful Gwynivere, Arthur's future bride, who immediately steals Lancelot's heart. Elaine despises Gwynivere for her haughty and flirtatious manner ("A gown woven by faeries/ could not disguise her cruel nature," Elaine declares). Gwynivere conveys equal dislike for Elaine, but the two women form a bond in the throes of danger after they are kidnapped and held hostage by invading Saxons. The poetic narrative-a mix of observations, dialogue and laments-evokes a remarkable range (and natural progression) of emotions. Elaine's coming of age encompasses moments of adolescent infatuation, jealousy, grief and sacrifice and an evolution of friendship into mature love as she ultimately relinquishes her feelings for Lancelot and pledges her heart to Tristan. Characterized as unconventional for her time, Elaine encapsulates modern feminist values, proving herself to be as intelligent, determined and loyal as her male companions. Ages 12-up. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Bonnie Kunzel
This very different retelling of Arthurian legends is a poetic account of the battle against the Saxons that includes Arthur's agreement to marry Gwynivere in exchange for her father's support in battle. The Round Table is a fire pit with benches around it. The narrator is Elaine, a young Lady of Shalott, who has grown up in Arthur's camp after the death of her mother. She worships Lancelot, who befriended her as a young girl. But Gwynivere's arrival changes everything. Haughty and stuck up, she is not about to sully her hands by helping the only other girl, Elaine, with her mending or healing duties. Even worse, Lancelot is smitten with his future queen and responds with harsh words to the tenderhearted girl who worships him. Fortunately Tristan, still suffering over his lost love, starts as Elaine's friend and eventually replaces Lancelot in her affections. When Arthur and company leave camp to battle the Saxons, Elaine follows. Captured by Saxons at the end of a five-day march, it is Gwynivere who saves her life. She had followed Elaine and now shares her captivity, escapes to bring back help, and becomes a true friend to Elaine in the end, revealing her own feelings of helplessness and inadequacy at the arranged marriage foisted on her. The happy ending has only one flaw in Lancelot's continued obsession with Gwynivere, who is now determined to stand by her vows to Arthur. This girl-centered retelling is beautifully written and full of action, for fantasy and poetry fans alike.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
Once more to the Arthurian Legend we go, as have thousands of others so many times in past centuries. This time the story centers on Elaine, the Lady of Shalott, made famous in modern times in the poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1842. Sandell's Elaine is a young woman modern YAs will find intriguing: an independent, courageous beauty trying to find her way in a man's world. Sandell uses poetry to tell the story, and the brief lines propel the reader forward as the action and emotion build. Elaine, who legend portrays as a beautiful object, here narrates the story, telling of her responsibilities as healer and mender of the bodies and armor of the knights around her. She is friends with the young warriors: Lancelot, Tristan, Gawain, and even Arthur himself. She is there when Arthur is selected by Merlin to be the leader. Dreading their first offensive battle against the Saxon invaders, she takes action to help them and in so doing, risks her own life. Sandell's lyrical passages grip the reader as Elaine journeys through strange countryside alone, is kidnapped, escapes and devises a plan to help her warrior friends. Fear is a constant, of course, even in the midst of Elaine's bravery. Other emotions are present in Elaine's crush on Lancelot, and her despair when she sees he loves Gwynivere; and in Gwynivere's resentment at having no choice in being selected as Arthur's bride and her disdain for Elaine, who she sees as wild and common, allowed to run free with the warriors. Fortunately, Gwynivere herself is transformed by the events she and Elaine endure and the two form a strong friendship based on admiration and respect. An excellent modern take on an old story, sure to be pleasing toreaders, especially those who like the poetry format. The author's note helps to place Song of the Sparrow in the context of what is known about Arthur.
Children's Literature - Cassidy Barnette
After witnessing her mother's murder at the hands of the Saxons, Elaine, the Lady of Shallot, is transplanted in King Arthur's army campsite along with her brother Lavain to live with her father and older brother Tirry, who are soldiers in Arthur's army. As she matures from a young girl to a young woman, Elaine begins to realize that she is the only woman in a camp with hundreds of men. In fact, during much of the story, she struggles to find her identity as a woman in the male-dominated society in which she lives. Elaine becomes an asset to the army not only because she washes and mends the men's clothing but also because she tends to their battle wounds. Elaine begins to fall in love with one of her dear friends, Lancelot; however, after the arrival of another woman in the camp, Guinevere, Elaine realizes that Lancelot will never return her love because of his newfound love for Guinevere. Initially, Guinevere is anything but a comrade to Elaine, but when the Saxons capture them, a special bond of friendship develops. Bravely looking to save herself and her new friend, Elaine devises a plan for escape so that they can warn the Britons of the impending surprise attack from the Saxons. The author creates a compelling story by placing a strong, independent female character in the center of the Arthurian legend, which is traditionally dominated by strong male characters. Although the characters are not very complex, they are dynamic because through the course of the story, their beliefs and stereotypes change. Reviewer: Cassidy Barnette
In this Arthurian historical-romance, teenaged Elaine of Ascolat (best known as Tennyson's "Lady of Shalott") grows out of her accustomed role as war-camp mascot by saving Arthur's army from a Saxon ambush at Badon Hill, turning the hostile Gwynivere into a friend and finally getting over her own infatuation with Lancelot-hooking up with Tristan instead. By the end, she's even cut back on fretting about her looks. Sandell writes in seldom-elevated free verse, spurs the plot with trite devices-a never-identified British spy so-conveniently debriefs right outside the tent where Elaine and Gwynivere are being held captive by Saxons-then closes with a term-paperish rehash of the Arthurian Legend's history, and a reading list. Readers fond of tales about hunky, boyish men and the women who give their lives meaning may enjoy this reworking, but it's only empty calories next to Gerald Morris's far smarter and wittier takes. (Fiction. 12-15)