Belated read-a-thon reviews. Books sponsored by [personal profile] sartorias.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom are a pair of excellent quasi-historical novels set in an alternate sixth century Aksum (Ethiopia), about a royal child-spy. I think they would appeal to fans of Megan Whalen Turner for their suspense, excellent characterization, complex politics, fine prose, and extremely high angst quotient.

The child spy in question is Telemakos, the son of the Aksumite Turunesh and the British Medraut. Yes, that Medraut, the one more commonly known as Mordred. That being said, there’s very little else about the books which is in any way Arthurian. Let me explain how this came about…

The first book, The Winter Prince, is an intense, heartbreaking novel in the form of a letter from the young Medraut to his mother Morgause. It’s notable for featuring no magic, and for adding the characters of Lleu, Arthur’s high-strung legitimate son with whom Medraut has a tormented love-hate relationship (tormented love-hate sums up all of Medraut's significant relationships, actually), and Goewin, Arthur’s practical legitimate daughter. Guinevere is very sympathetic, and there is no Lancelot. This and the completely different The Once and Future King are my all-time favorite Arthurian novels. It stands on its own, and I'm not sure if a sequel was intended at the time it was written.

The sequel, A Coalition of Lions, is a complete left turn. It’s from the point of view of Goewin after Camlann, and takes place in Aksum. It’s well-written and sets the stage for the rest of the books, but is a bit emotionally distant (until the end) and I found the politics hard to follow.

It’s probably possible to start the Aksum sequence with the next book, The Sunbird, which is told from the point of view of Telemakos, a brilliant boy – but still a boy – who volunteers for an absolutely harrowing spy mission. It’s a great story, but very intense and angsty, the more so because Telemakos is so young.

The subsequent two books (really one book broken in two, so buy both if you want to read the story) largely involve the aftermath of the events of The Sunbird, complete with a very believable depiction of PTSD, and proof that the reward of a difficult job well-done is another and harder job.

In these books, Telemakos copes with both new and old traumas, on a new mission intricately interconnected with his old one. His new baby sister is one of the best-written portrayals of a baby and toddler I’ve ever come across, adorable but not too adorable, a real character even before she learns to speak. The two of them are sent to a neighboring kingdom, where Telemakos develops a complicated relationship with its very complicated ruler. Intrigue, ancient science, and extreme suspense ensue. I love Telemakos THIS MUCH, and was alternately covering my eyes in horror and leaping up to cheer for him. Metaphorically speaking.

Highly recommended, with the caveat that Telemakos is very young and some very bad stuff happens to him. (But not sexual abuse.) I also note that the novels are a sort of historically based fantasy (but without magic) rather than history as it really happened, much like the historical-but-not-real-history of The Winter Prince - that is, they are taking place in the same world as King Arthur.

Spoilers welcome in comments, so don’t read the comments if you don’t want to be spoiled.

The Winter Prince (Action Packs)

Coalition of Lions

The Sunbird

The Lion Hunter (The Mark of Solomon)

The Empty Kingdom (The Mark of Solomon)
I realize that I am mentioning this a bit late, but nobody told me until [personal profile] asakiyume congratulated me.

"Nine Views of the Oracle" came in third in the short poem division! I am astounded, flattered, and thrilled. Especially since it was switched from "long" to "short" at the last minute, which I was certain would torpedo its already unlikely chances. Thank you to everyone who voted for it!

...I should write some more poems! I am thinking of crows and ravens and associated mythology, as a gift for an (offline) friend who likes them a lot. Anyone have any scraps of inspiring crow lore? Anyone recall any that's Indian? (As in India, not as in Native American; the idea with that is to jog my own memory with things I might have already known but forgotten.)
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