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The Sunbird

by Elizabeth E.  Wein

Published by Viking, 2004
184 pages
ISBN: 0-670-03691-9

Ages 13 - 17

A companion book to two previous novels requires no prior knowledge for new readers to be swept right into the action. Set in the historic kingdom of Aksum, located in what is now Ethiopia and Eritrea, it tells the story of the grandson of two very powerful families in the fifth century, one British (Arthurian) and one African. Telemakos (named for Telemachus) is ridiculed for being a half breed. His whiteness makes him ghoulish to people in his community in spite of his impressive Aksum lineage. But he has a special ability to track and spy without being unnoticed. The emperor has imposed a quarantine and trade embargo in the kingdom to avoid further spread of the plague, but someone is defying his orders. The emperor asks Telemakos to try to identify and locate the traitor: risky work that will surely mean death if he is caught. Elizabeth E. Wein has deftly woven two genres in a hard-to-put-down story that has all the details of real time and place expected of historical fiction but adds tangential mention of Arthurian characters that gives it a medieval fantasy feel. She incorporates issues of class and race, loyalty to family and kingdom, and gender as Telemakos’s harrowing mission unfolds. Some fairly explicitly violent scenes make this a better choice for more mature readers. Parallels with “The Odyssey” will appeal to fans of Greek mythology, but readers don’t need to grasp the allusion in order to enjoy the novel in its own right. CCBC categories: Fiction for Young Adults.  © Cooperative Children's Book Center

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