- Song of the Sparrow
This novel in free-verse poems explores the early days of pre-Camelot Arthur through the first-person perspective of sixteen-year-old Elaine, one of his followers. Elaine, the only girl in a war camp, is secretly in love with Lancelot, enamored with her role as healer and nurse to her hundreds of adopted brothers, and fearful, as they all are, that escalating tensions may mean that these men will never return to their families. The addition to camp of the stunning but aloof Gwynivere as Arthur's betrothed, with whom Lancelot is immediately besotted, only causes more turmoil in Elaine's life, pushing her to a desperate choice to secretly follow the men into battle. The paths to true love and peace may each be far rockier than expected, but Elaine is a stubborn, if foolhardy, protagonist, ready to shed the gendered limitations placed on her and play an active role in her pursuit of both. There is an elegance and romance in the economy of Sandell's free verse that pairs well with the chivalry, austerity, and patriotism that guides every action of these characters. If Elaine's end-of-book discovery of her "other" true love in Tristan may be a bit too convenient, there is still undeniable chemistry and powerful intensity in their pairing, described in sweeping and breathless language that will make any romance fan swoon. Even with the feminine perspective and heavy emphasis on love, the effectively creepy descriptions of the prophesying Merlin, the terse metaphors of blood and war, and the undeniable masculinity of the camp are effective selling points to extend the audience. An author's note provides references about the literary Elaine, on whom this character was based, and a list of recommended readings suggests the trove of literature and myth awaiting teens interested in exploring Arthurian legends further.