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The Sunbird

The Sunbird

by Elizabeth Wein

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Telemakos is the grandson of two noble men: Kidane, member of the parliament in the African kingdom of Aksum, and Artos, the fallen High King of Britain. Telemakos is also an exceptional listener and tracker, resolute and inventive in his ability to discover and retain information. Now his aunt Goewin, the British ambassador to Aksum, needs his skill. Plague


Telemakos is the grandson of two noble men: Kidane, member of the parliament in the African kingdom of Aksum, and Artos, the fallen High King of Britain. Telemakos is also an exceptional listener and tracker, resolute and inventive in his ability to discover and retain information. Now his aunt Goewin, the British ambassador to Aksum, needs his skill. Plague has come to Britain, and threatens Aksum. Disguised, Telemakos must travel to the city of Afar where salt—the currency of sixth century Africa—is mined, and discover the traitor who has ignored the emperor's command, spreading plague with the salt from port to port. This challenge will take all of Telemakos's skill, strength, and courage—because otherwise it will cost him his life.

The Sunbird is the third in Elizabeth E. Wein's ongoing Arthurian/ Aksumite cycle. Its striking, spare language, riveting plot, and all-too-human characters are unforgettable.

“The exotic culture and well-developed code of honor of the Aksumite court give this post-Arthurian/ancient Ethiopian fusion its striking flavor. . . . With her thorough command of historic characters, a grand scope, and a swift-paced, heroic plot, Wein has laid out an appealing and sumptuous literary banquet.” (The Horn Book)

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
In Elizabeth Wein's third entry in her post-Arthurian saga, The Sunbird, young Telemakos, skilled in stealth and subterfuge, is enlisted by the emperor to travel to neighboring Adulis. As the author profiles the lives of sixth-century Ethiopian royalty and their interactions with their British colonials, plague spreads across the land, which has led to quarantines. But someone in Adulis is defying the blockade in order to establish a black market to trade salt. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
In this sequel to A Coalition of Lions, the focus of Wein's stories of Britain and Aksum shifts from Goewin, who has become the British ambassador to Aksum, to her nephew, Telemakos, the son of Modraut and his Aksum wife Turunesh. Telemakos's natural curiosity, combined with his ability to spy on anyone without their knowing, lead Goewin and the Aksum emperor, Gebre Meskal, to ask the youngster to undertake a difficult mission for them: infiltrate the salt mine of Afar and find out who is using the salt trade to spread plague throughout the (ancient) world. Telemakos agrees to embark upon what he thinks will be the adventure of a lifetime, knowing that if he is caught, his royal status will not keep him from dying at the hands of the traitor. However, nothing has prepared Telemakos for the absolute humiliation and pain he will endure when he is forced to work in the mines as a servant. This is a strong third book in Wein's Arthurian/Aksumite cycle, especially in the manner in which Modraut finally comes to terms with his past in a way that allows him to look to his—and Telemakos'—future. A highly recommended read. 2004, Viking, Ages 11 to 16.
—Jean Boreen, Ph.D.
This third book in the series that began with The Winter Prince (Atheneum, 1993/VOYA December 1993) is as dazzling as the Salt Desert that young Telemakos travels across on his dangerous journey. Wein continues her fascinating vision of the Arthurian story in which Medraut—son of Artos the High King and his sister Morgause—lives in Askum (Ethiopia) and has married the daughter of a court noble. His son, Telemakos, is the Sunbird, bright and clever. Telemakos's natural gifts for listening and tracking are put to use by the Askum emperor as he is sent, disguised, into the desert. The boy's task is to discover the identity of the traitor who is ignoring the quarantine and bringing plague to the cities of Askum. This outstanding book has many elements that set it apart. The innovative twist on the Arthurian legend is extremely intriguing. The setting, in both place and time, is unusual and beautifully developed. The suspenseful adventure is nail-bitingly tense. But the real strength of the book lies in the intelligent and engaging characters. Telemakos is vividly realized, and his courage and relentless curiosity shine from the pages. His Aunt Goewin, Ambassador from Britain, is a fascinating woman, strong and determined. His father, troubled silent Medraut, adds mystery, and the irrepressible Sofya is a charmer who deserves a book herself. Booktalk this winner by describing the scene in which Telemakos has his eyes glued shut, and middle school boys will be begging for more copies. The complicated cast of characters is more easily sorted out if the previous books in the series are read first. A helpful family tree, map, and glossary are included. VOYA Codes: 4Q 4P M J (Better thanmost, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Viking, 224p.; Glossary. Map., Ages 11 to 15.
—Lynn Rutan
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Wein once again takes her readers back to Aksum, Africa (present-day Ethiopia and Eritrea) during the sixth century as she continues the family saga that began with The Winter Prince (Puffin, 2003), followed by A Coalition of Lions (Viking, 2003). This third book is told through the eyes of Telemakos, the grandson of two noble men, one British and one Aksumite. When a deadly plague decimates Britain, Aksum's emperor declares a quarantine in order to keep the kingdom safe. Yet there are some, driven by profit motives, who defy this order and continue to trade with infected areas. Telemakos is called upon by his aunt, Britain's ambassador to Aksum, to discover who is responsible for defying the emperor. Doing so almost costs him his life. This book has it all-honor, loyalty, intrigue, betrayal, brutality, spies, family dynamics, love, and hate. Wein's attention to detail results in descriptions that are masterful and characters who are strong and memorable. Following the story may be challenging for some readers in that there are many foreign names, and some characters are referred to by more than one name. The novel starts a bit slowly, but then the intensity quickly picks up and readers become mesmerized. To fully appreciate the depth and scope of this installment in the ongoing series, it is recommended that the first two books be read first. A remarkable and unique story.-Mary N. Oluonye, Shaker Heights Public Library, OH Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Wein is expertly mining a commingled Arthurian and African sixth-century history here, as she did in A Coalition of Lions (2003) and The Winter Prince (1993). Although a sequel, this can be read without knowledge of the other two. Goewin, British ambassador to Aksum (Ethiopia), learns that plague has come to Britain. She sets quarantine on the ports of Aksum, yet the plague comes through. She turns to Telemakos, young son of her brother Medraut and his wife the Aksumite Lady Turunesh, naming him Sunbird. The boy is wary, knowledgeable, and gifted. Overlooked because he's a child, he has learned much of importance. Goewin sends Telemakos on a terrible journey in the hope of keeping plague from the land. The boy's suffering, capture, and servitude, and his discovery of the traitor who defies the quarantine and thus allows plague free rein, are harrowing. So are his return and his pronouncing sentence on the traitor, his captor. This riveting tale also illuminates Telemakos's growing and complex relationship with his father Medraut and his aunt Goewin. Intense, absorbing, and luminously written. (Fiction. YA)

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA)
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.28(w) x 6.98(h) x 0.52(d)
Age Range:
12 Years

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Wein (www.elizabethwein.com) was born in New York City, grew up abroad, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She is an avid flyer of small planes. She also holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania.

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