Song of the Sparrow: A (poetic) Review

Song of the Sparrow by Lisa Ann SandellElaine of Ascolat could have been a lady with lovely dresses and finery. A lady who spent her days weaving like her mother in a tower room of their home on Shallot.

But that home and her mother are gone.

Instead Elaine lives with her father and brothers who fight in the Briton army under the young Arthur. The only girl in the camp, Elaine runs as wild and free as her brothers. She wishes the handsome knight Lancelot would see her as more than a child. She listens to Tristan’s sweet songs. She mends the soldiers’ clothes before each battle. She tends their wounds with herbs and poultices after.

Although she has a home in this strange world of men and fighting, although she has hundreds of brothers, Elaine longs for a real place among the men as much as she wishes for female companionship.

When another girl, Gwynivere, arrives at the camp Elaine is thrilled–until Gwynivere proves herself a cold and cruel companion.

Spurned by Gwynivere, faced with an uncertain future as war looms, Elaine decides to make her own place in Arthur’s camp and prove her worth to the soldiers–especially Lancelot. What starts as a simple plan soon turns into something more complicated and much more dangerous as Elaine has to struggle to protect everything–and everyone–she holds dear in Song of the Sparrow (2007) by Lisa Ann Sandell.

Song of the Sparrow is a revisionist retelling of the legend of King Arthur. It is also a novel written in free verse.

The Lady of Shalott, Elaine of Ascolat, has appeared in numerous retellings of Arthurian legend. Sandell has done something different here not only in giving Elaine a voice of her own but also in giving her agency in her own right. Song of the Sparrow is the story of before Arthur built Camelot–a prequel of sorts to the legends readers will know from movies and stories. Elaine is a winsome narrator with a captivating story that is as exciting and moving as it is poetic.

Beautifully written and elegantly told Song of the Sparrow is a delightfully re-imagined look at the time and world of King Arthur through a feminist lens. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, After the Kiss by Terra Elan McVoy, The Lady of Shalott by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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