Song of the Sparrow is the story of Elaine of Ascolat, otherwise known as the Lady of Shalott. Being a big fan of the Tennyson poem (it haunts me), I just had to read the book to get a little more story on this mysterious woman who floated down the river to Camelot in her boat named the Lady of Shalott.
“Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and Burgher,
Lord and Dame,
And around the prow they read her name,
The Lady of Shalott.”
In Sandell’s excellent young adult novel set in Britain 490 AD, Elaine is a young girl growing up in a world of military men. Her mother has been killed and so she lives with her brothers and father in the moving camps of war, the only girl in a world of men serving under Arthur. Elaine is a tomboy, a good seamstress, gifted healer and has a big and caring heart. Her only woman friend is Morgan, the sister of Arthur, who sometimes visits the camp.
She is almost a mother figure to all the men in the camp even though some of them are starting to change the way they look at her. Sse's sixteen and beautiful, though she doesn’t know it. Elaine, however, has eyes only for Lancelot, her childhood friend. Lancelot seems to be leaning towards Elaine, until the fiancée of Arthur comes to live in the camp, the beauteous but cruel Gwynivere who is deeply in love with Lancelot and he falls so with her.
Song of the Sparrow is written entirely in free verse and gives both a sense of the haunting poem and paintings of the Lady of Shalott, while being more hopeful, happier. Elaine is a marvelous character – vibrant, fiery, brave and determined. Gwynivere is multi-layered and deeply conflicted. The men in the story almost serve as background to these complex and interesting women.
The battle scenes, history and the wonders of nature all make this a highly entertaining and great read. Highly recommended.