Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

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I don't review books I don't like!

*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
**      = Enjoyable
*        = Good, with reservations


****Sword of the Rightful King

A Novel of King Arthur

by Jane Yolen

Reviewed October 2, 2003.
Harcourt, Orlando, 2003.  351 pages.
Available at Sembach Library (JF YOL).
A Sonderbooks’ Stand-out of 2003:  #4, Young Adult Fantasy

I first picked up this book after having just finished the wonderful A Coalition of Lions, by Elizabeth E. Wein.  I had loved that book, and so thought I’d be in the mood for another book about Arthurian legend.  I didn’t like it.  Some of the same characters were present, but some who had been good were now bad.  The style wasn’t the same.  I set it aside. 

I picked it up again after having read a few other books in between.  I was enchanted and captivated.  What a magnificent book!  It goes to show that sometimes your mood or the book you’ve just finished affects how much you enjoy a book.  I don’t think that either of those two books is necessarily better than the other.  They are quite different and don’t go together well.  Read a week or two apart, both are splendid.

This book examines the question:  What if the Sword in the Stone was a set-up job by Merlin?  Arthur was already king of all Britain, but there were many people who questioned his leadership and some who were actively against him, like Morgause, the Queen of the North.  So Merlinnus enchants a sword in a stone with an inscription:  “WHOSO PULLETH OUTE THIS SWERD OF THIS STONE IS RIGHTWYS KYNGE BORNE OF ALL BRYTAYGNE.”  He magically makes sure that only Arthur will be able to pull it out.

Then they learn that an assassin is being sent from the Queen of the North.  Is it Gawaine, her son but Arthur’s seemingly loyal Companion?  Perhaps it is one of his three brothers, whom Arthur must greet with hospitality.  Meanwhile, a strange boy named Gawen comes to Arthur’s castle and becomes Merlin’s apprentice.  His story of his background doesn’t match his actions.  He has some grudge against Gawaine.  Merlinnus finds him wonderfully helpful in setting up the Sword in the Stone.

This is a wonderful novel with suspense and surprises all the way to the end.  Arthur is revealed as a man anyone would be happy to have for a king—wise, humble, kind, and with a strong sense of humor.  Gawaine is truly noble, trapped between his mother and his loyalty to Arthur.  Gawan was my favorite character—clever and resourceful, he ends up being the key to the success of the Sword in the Stone.

Reader comment:  An anonymous reader gives this book four stars.

Other books by Jane Yolen:

Take Joy:  A Book for Writers
Sleeping Ugly
Mightier Than the Sword: World Folktales for Strong Boys

The Perfect Wizard:  Hans Christian Andersen

The Tartan Magic series:
The Wizard's Map
The Pictish Child
The Bagpiper's Ghost

With Robert J. Harris:
Girl in a Cage  
Hippolyta and the Curse of the Amazons

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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