Date read: July 22nd 2013
This is the story of Elaine of Ascolat, a sixteen-year-old lady who has been living in various military camps with her father and her brothers since her mother died 9 years ago.
This is also the story of the Britons under the new leader Arthur (after the assassination of Ambrosius Aurelius) as they try to fight the invasion of Saxons, Picts and Scots.
But ultimately, this is a story of love and friendship, of family and comradeship and of bravery and battles.
Full disclosure – I had no knowledge on King Arthur or Round Table or Camelot until I read this book. Somehow I suppose I am supposed to be bothered by this – you can’t fully understand a historical fiction unless you know about the surrounding circumstances – but actually, I’m not.
I personally found that the book has less to do with actual historical events than the situation Elaine is in.
As the only female person living in a military camp, it falls to Elaine to mend the soldiers’ clothes and tend to their wounds and illnesses. The men have watched Elaine grow up and are very fond of her – they are like her brothers.
Elaine has been in love with Lancelot, a close follower of Arthur’s, for years – he has been her playmate (even though he is older), a sympathetic ear and a close friend. Lately she found her heart beating faster whenever he is near her, and hopes he returns her feelings, too.
All this changes when they meet Arthur’s fiancée… Gwynivere, a beautiful girl of Elaine’s age, who apparently hates Elaine and has captured Lancelot’s heart from the moment he had laid his eyes on her.
Song of the Sparrow is a novel written in verse. As such, it is important that they flow naturally from one verse to another without being bland. It is difficult to strike that narrow space in-between (although Ellen Hopkins’ earlier works manage the job with near perfection), and at first I had some problems getting into Elaine’s voice. Once I did, though, her hopes and dreams and fiery temper began to take a solid shape.
Elaine is on the verge of adulthood, naturally good at heart but confused about her feelings and exasperated at tedious tasks laid before her. She thinks independently and has a courage and determination to match any soldier. And as she grew up like a wild boy (living on a military camp for nine years as only permanent female resident will do that to you, I suppose), Elaine is insecure about her looks, which worsens when she meets Gywnivere, who is a proper lady through and through.
At first Gywnivere is the typical antagonist who has made it her task to make the protagonist miserable. But – and I don’t know whether I’m writing spoilers now – she and Elaine do form a friendship born out of emergency but that is true at heart. It was wonderful to watch their friendship manifest.
There is also an element of Tristan and Isolde although I’m not sure why – is it related to King Arthur’s legends? – but it certainly kept things interesting.
The only exasperation I had was when – I can’t say it because it is a spoiler for sure. After the battle, necklace-person, always? Really? That’s the only thing that didn’t make sense to me.
The “sparrow” in the title is a metaphor for Elaine’s heart – both her literal and figurative heart. It was a nice touch.