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Elizabeth E(ve) Wein (1964-) - Sidelights

review book prince winter

Elizabeth E. Wein is the author of a cycle of novels for young adults which draw on Arthurian legends, but have a different approach to the material than many books in the genre. She omits the magical elements and some of the more fantastic characters, including Merlin and Sir Lancelot, uses the Welsh names for the characters, and focuses on the Celtic origins of the stories rather than their better-known, late-medieval versions. Her first novel, The Winter Prince, is a psychological drama about the tensions and jealousies that exist between Medraut (the Welsh name for Mordred) and Lleu, and between Medraut and his mother Morgause. Wein writes the story as if Medraut is telling it to Morgause and imagines Medraut as "a gifted, richly complex young man whose deep ambivalence about Lleu governs the story," explained a Kirkus Reviews contributor. It is "a mesmerizing, splendidly imagined debut," that reviewer concluded. The tale also was praised by other critics, including School Library Journal's Jane Gardner Connor, who commented that "the characterizations are complex and finely drawn" and Medraut's "love-hate feelings for [Morgause] are powerfully conveyed."

The second book in the series, A Coalition of Lions, was published a decade after The Winter Prince. Following in The Winter Prince's tradition of re-imagining the Arthurian legends in an original and non-magical way, Wein sets part of this tale in the kingdom of Aksum (now Ethiopia). "Thanks to Wein's thorough research about Africa in the sixth century," Jean Boreen wrote in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, the book offers teenagers "a remarkable historical read." After the deaths of Artos, Ginevra, and Lleu, Lleu's twin Goewin flees to Aksum with that country's British ambassador, Priamos. Again the story is full of jealousy and betrayal, "and Wein has a perfect handle on the ruthlessness of power," Anita L. Burkam commented in Horn Book. "The story boasts plenty of action," Burkam continued, "but it is the human scale and personality of the principal characters that gives the novel its heart."

The Sunbird tells the story of Telemakos, Medraut's son by an African noblewoman. A remarkable listener and tracker, Telemakos is called upon by the emporer of Aksum to discover the leader of a group of salt smugglers who are defying their nation's quarantine against plague and allowing death and destruction into the kingdom. He ends up as a slave in a salt mine, but is eventually rescued. Then the young man sets about putting together what he has learned about the smugglers, "piecing together the clues for a satisfying conclusion," wrote Horn Book's Burkam. Burkham also found that The Sunbird possesses "all of the richness and complexity of its predecessors," and a Kirkus Reviews contributor called the book "a riveting tale" that is "intense, absorbing, and luminously written."

Wein once told SATA: "When I was seven, and living in Jamaica, my grandmother designed her own 'Book-ofthe-Month-Club' service for me. Some of the books she sent me were not bookstore-new: she sent her own copy of The Secret Garden, and my aunt's copy of a wonderful French novel called The Horse without a Head, and my mother's old copies of Henry Huggins and Ellen Tebbits. But they were all books new to me. She sent A Little Princess, The High King, and every single one of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I don't remember graduating from picture books to chapter books, but I think it happened when I was seven. My grandmother sent me the best stories I'd ever read, and I knew that I was going to write books like these.

"I went around for twenty years after that telling people 'I'm going to be a writer' or 'I want to be a writer,' and it was one of the hardest transitions of my life to change that statement to 'I am a writer.'

"There are messages in my writing, and morals, but I don't put them there on purpose. I write because I have a story to tell. I write for myself: The Winter Prince is what I was looking for to read when I was sixteen. Once when I was rereading it, I thought in astonishment, 'If I hadn't written this it would be my favorite book.' Then it occurred to me: the book I write should be my favorite book. It's in my power to create exactly the characters I want to get to know, playing out exactly the plot I want to follow.

"This power amazes me. More and more, as I get older, I find myself drawing on my own experiences and feelings when I write, making fictional use of real things that have happened to me. I can change the ending. I can repeat good things over and over. I can work through the bad times honorably and methodically, instead of stumbling blindly into the future. I can change destiny. Someone, somewhere, may be warned not to make the mistakes I made, through my manipulation. I can go back in time. I can rearrange things. I longed for magic when I was a child—other writers' books brought tantalizing, fleeting glimpses of glitter and glamour that might be mine. Through reading I could become enchanted, and the magic seemed real. Now, as a writer in my own right, it is real. I can make the worlds I wanted so much to be part of. I wished myself Aladdin, with a magician at my beck; instead I have become the magician.

"A fiction writer is by definition a liar. That's the paradox of my life: through fiction I can come at the truth."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, November 15, 1993, Chris Sherman, review of The Winter Prince, p. 615; February 15, 2003, Karin Snelson, review of A Coalition of Lions, p. 1065.

Book Report, January-February, 1994, Holly Wadsworth, review of The Winter Prince, p. 50.

Horn Book, March-April, 1994, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Winter Prince, p. 208; March-April, 2003, Anita L. Burkam, review of A Coalition of Lions, p. 218, March-April, 2004, Anita L. Burkam, review of The Sunbird, p. 191.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, November, 2003, Jean Boreen, review of A Coalition of Lions, pp. 268-269.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 1993, review of The Winter Prince; April 1, 2003, review of A Coalition of Lions, p. 542; March 1, 2004, review of The Sunbird, p. 231.

Library Journal, September 1, 1994, Nancy Dice, review of The Winter Prince, p. 244.

Publishers Weekly, August 9, 1993, review of The Winter Prince, p. 480.

School Library Journal, October, 1993, Jane Gardner Connor, review of The Winter Prince, p. 158; April, 2003, Jane G. Connor, review of A Coalition of Lions, p. 170; May, 2004, Mary N. Oluonye, review of The Sunbird, p. 158.

Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 2004, "Best Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror 2003," p. 15.

ONLINE

Elizabeth Wein Home Page, http://www.elizabethwein.com/ (May 28, 2004).

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