The Sunbird – Elizabeth Wein

Book three of Wein’s Arthurian/Aksumite series takes up the story of the next generation, with Medraut’s twelve-year-old son Telemakos as protagonist. Unlike the first two books in the series, it is told from the third-person point of view, and unfortunately, I think that made it less interesting. The protagonist was less complex than in the other two books and the plot less original in structure, though in substance it was quite interesting: the very young Telemakos becomes a spy to figure out who is breaking quarantine during a plague in order to profit from the situation. Even though the main villain is a bit obvious, he is also genuinely scary, both in his venal motivation and his very creepy actions and speech patterns- he constantly refers to Telemakos as “it.”

Ultimately this book felt geared for a younger audience than the first two books. The interpersonal relationships were more obvious- Telemakos yearns for his voluntarily mute, trapped-in-the-past father to live in the present and speak to him, paralleling his namesake’s desire for his father’s return. The climax once again spells out too much explicitly. On the other hand, Goewin and Medraut’s relationship continues complex, and the new character Sofya is sharp-edged, sometimes sympathetic, sometimes a jerk, and all in all a worthy addition to the cast.

Telemakos’s reactions to his tribulations are realistic, his gift for hiding something he practices and works at, and his final confrontation with the villain spellbinding. I would recommend this to readers 10-14, but it’s not something I would have picked up if it were not for the rest of the series. It’s very satisfying to see how Goewin grows while remaining the same character, and she plays a major and thoroughly enjoyable role. It also wraps up some outstanding issues about Medraut. The book stands alone, but makes reference to the events of others; Medraut and Goewin’s conflict refers back to what Medraut did in The Winter Prince and what Goewin considered doing in A Coalition of Lions.

This is where I would recommend a younger reader (someone Telemakos’s age) to start, but while it’s the author’s favorite of the series, I think that while it’s very good at what it does, what it does is less interesting than what the previous books do.

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