May 11, 2008

The Mark of Solomon

If you haven't read Elizabeth Wein's The Lion Hunter, it's okay -- because the ending of the first in the duet titled The Mark of Solomon ended with such a cliffhanger that I don't know how readers made it through the year they had to wait until the sequel! Now that it's out, though, run don't walk, to your local library and bookstores and get started.

Telemakos, far from his home in the port kingdom of Aksum, is suspected of being a spy, caught listening at doors, and snooping through the desk of the king and federator of the Arabic lands. In this way, he has discovered that the najashi Abreha has been collecting all of the letters from home he's been receiving. Terrified that there's much going on that he doesn't know, and frantic that his life is forfeit should he be caught informing Goewin or his father -- and thus the Emperor of Aksum -- of the treasonous quarantine breakers which Abreha is harboring, Telemakos does not know what to do. The knowledge he has must get home, yet Abreha makes him read aloud every letter and signs it with his signet. He also carries in his sash a death warrant for Telemakos, with a lock of his silver-whitehair knotted in its wax seal. The line Telemakos must walk is very, very treacherous indeed. Yet he must warn his Emperor...

The Himyar mapmaker to whom Telemakos is apprenticed has set him at a task which betrays the Emperor and his own country, and now he must face the worst punishment of his life -- not seeing Athena, his sister, for three months. He hears her toddler screams from below his chamber for weeks, since the nursery is below his rooms. She is inconsolable, biting and scratching and tantruming all day. And Telemakos wakens from his sleep at night, terror and memory no longer held at bay. Only his training as a soldier and a warrior helps him keep his sanity, and training Abreha's lion. He is not allowed out without a guard, no longer has Abreha's confidence, and does not understand what the desert king could want from him. Why is he treating him in this way? What's behind it all?

When Telemakos' father, Medrut, finally comes, Telemakos realizes the depth of Abreha's duplicity. There sits his father, a scion of Britain, in chains! Why has he refused to allow his father to be the British ambassador? Why won't he allow Telemakos to communicate with anyone at all? When will someone come and let Telemakos and Athena, who is in grave danger, go home? Telemakos makes a sacrifice which seems to betray both his Emperor and himself -- but it will put his innocent little sister out of harm's way.

The Empty Kingdom is book two of Telemakos' tale of suspensful adventure in sixth century Ethiopia. Telemakos may have been a pawn in the game, but he makes the moves of a grandmaster, and in a single stroke, wins it all.

Many novelists write detailed novels of intrigue and beauty about ancient countries, but few remember that in the sixth century it wasn't only the Britain which had kingdoms and palaces and princes and rulers and intrigues. Far from portraying Ethiopia and Arabia as a collection of ignorant peoples in a dusty place, Elizabeth Wein has colored in the sepia-toned maps of history and produced a really great series. Pick it up -- you'll be glad you did!

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