TheBookSmugglers's Reviews > The Sunbird

The Sunbird by Elizabeth Wein
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's review
Feb 20, 2012

really liked it

Original review posted on The Book Smugglers

The Sunbird is the third book in Elizabeth Wein’s Arthurian/Aksumite cycle of stories which follows the descendants of King Artos of Britain and their lives in sixth century Aksum, Africa (present-day Ethiopia). Although part of an ongoing series, The Sunbird can definitely be read as a standalone (although I did have a few questions about previous happenings in the series, the most urgent one being: how and why exactly did the descendants of King Arthur end up in Africa? I shall have to go back and read the first two books in the series The Winter Prince and A Coalition of Lions both already purchased and added to my TBR pile)

The Plague is spreading in Europe and even though quarantine has been set in the Aksumite Empire, the plague breaks through and begins to spread. This story follows young prince Telemakos, the son of Medraut (son of King Artos) and Turunesh (daughter of Kidane, member of the imperial parliament of Aksum), as he is tasked by his aunt Goewin, the British ambassador to Aksum, with the dangerous mission of investigating who is responsible for it. Telemakos is a clever, resourceful boy who is constantly overlooked and underestimated because of his youth and his mixed-race status. Using these to his advantage, he is able to learn key information to help the Kingdom and is eventually sent on a journey across the Empire to learn more – a journey which will have terrible consequences.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Sunbird – it is a short yet extremely well developed story. It has moments of great gravitas – especially those that deal with courage and loyalty and the moments where the story dealt with the relationship between Telemakos and his father Medraut. There is a great comparison between their relationship and that of the mythology Telemakos and his father Ulysses. The latter deals with an absent father and the hope for his return whereas our Telemakos has to deal with a father who is present but who won’t use words to communicate with Telemakos: his muteness is a self-imposed punishment for past deeds and frustratingly difficult for Teleamakos to understand. I also really appreciated the strong female characters with agency and the high stakes of the story – Telemakos’ is a really dangerous mission and the author doesn’t shy away from it and there are horrendous scenes of torture that were really hard to read.

I loved its protagonist above all. Telemakos is a great, intrepid hero whose reluctant acceptance of his mission is coupled with his own cheeky certainty that he is the only one who can pull it off. He is at times old beyond his years and at others, a youngster who wants nothing to be cuddled by his family. I loved the Ethiopian setting as well, although I can’t really attest to any historical accuracy when it comes to the Kingdom of Aksum ( I am not really sure historical accuracy comes into play here considering this is a Fantasy novel about King Arthur).

Beyond that, I had extremely high expectations for The Sunbird considering that 1) the author wrote Code Name Verity which is so far my favourite 2012 read and 2) the main character of this book has been compared to Megan Whalen Turner’s Eugenides, one of my favourite characters of all time. In hindsight, this was probably not a good thing and I will admit that those expectations were impossible to be met. Although Telemakos did remind me of a young Eugenides (from The Thief) for his cleverness and cocky demeanour, I think the fact that narrative here doesn’t have the unreliability factor akin to Megan Whalen Turner’s books, makes this comparison a bit too extreme. This is perhaps, an unfair assessment but expectations are expectations and I believe I have to be clear in this regard. Funnily enough, I think The Sunbird has more things in common with Code Name Verity and its themes of courage and patriotism despite their wildly different setting.

One thing is certain though: Code Name Verity was not a fluke and Elizabeth Wein has just become a new favourite author.
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Reading Progress

February 20, 2012 – Started Reading
February 20, 2012 – Shelved
March 2, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Heidi (new) - added it

Heidi Yay! I'm very excited to hear more details about this series since I've heard it mentioned in such good light. Glad you finally got it in your hands. =)

Chachic It makes me happy that your copy finally arrived, Ana! Feel free to send me tweets or anything if you want to discuss Gen-in-Africa. :P

message 3: by Estara (new)

Estara *does supportive cheer-leading moves*

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