Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arty -- Song of the Sparrow

The Lady of Shalott, known also as Elaine of Ascalot. Her story, most famously told in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, is a mysterious classic. Anyone who's read the poem or anything else relating to the Lady knows that a retelling/spin-off/whatever would be ripe with promise.

In Song of the Sparrow, Elaine is a fiery-haired eighteen-year-old girl, the only girl in the military camp where she lives with her father and two brothers (predictably, her mother is dead). There, she rubs shoulders with other names of legend - Arthur, not yet king; Lancelot, her secret love; Tristan, one of her best friends; and Morgan, Arthur's sister, who comes to the camp at times to advise Arthur.

Elaine's peaceful existence is broken when Lancelot, previously gone off to persuade more nobles to Arthur's cause, comes back with one lord... and his daughter. Though Elaine is at first delighted to have another female in the camp, Guinevere turns out to be 'cold and cruel.' Worse yet, despite Guinevere's betrothal to Arthur, Guinevere has her sights set on Lancelot, and Lancelot doesn't seem to mind this.

But guess what? Elaine, because of her snoopiness and unwillingness to follow simple orders, is suddenly thrust into a situation where she has to save Arthur's men from a horrible mistake Arthur has made in attacking their enemies. With Guinevere. Cue dramatic music and teary eyes.

If you caught my rather blatant sarcasm, which I hope you did, you'll probably guess that I didn't enjoy Song of the Sparrow. Sadly, I didn't. I really wanted to. It's written in free verse poetry, a bit like old epics. And the Lady of Shalott - how could it get better?

The answer? Easily. Very easily.

Elaine is your typical 'strong, spirited heroine' - which is to say, as I mentioned, she can't stand to abide by rules if someone of the male persuasion presents them. She dislikes having only men for company, but hates almost all work that falls under the category of housework. She cries, runs away, and breaks rules, and is rewarded and called brave for it. And, of course, she's gorgeously red-haired. There is nothing original about Elaine - or any of the characters. Tristan is likable, but even he has his moments.

Technically speaking, Sandell hasn't quite mastered the art of free verse. She breaks off in random, illogical places, impeding the natural cadence of poetry. Her emphases don't quite work, either. In some places, you can tell Sandell had a burst of genius; usually, though, I read it as oddly formatted paragraph form, which was quicker than agonizing over the lack of... of flow.

There's really not much going for Song of the Sparrow. The plot was predictable, and, honestly, a little slow. Add to that cardboard characters and a complete slaughter of an ending, and I really cannot urge you enough to avoid this book. Though I haven't read anything else of the Lady of Shalott, Tennyson's poem is a must-read. Also, if you're a music fan, folk singer Loreena McKennitt put the poem to music - it's gorgeous. You can find that here, among other places.


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