When Code Name Verity came out last year I was so excited (my thoughts). See, the wonderful people at Sounis recommend Elizabeth Wein's books regularly. And I tried. I really really did. But The Winter Prince, which begins The Lion Hunters sequence, was impossible for me to get through. Not because it is badly written, quite the opposite, the writing pulled me and wrapped me up in it from the beginning, but that story creeps me out in too many ways. I feel it a little too much. So I rejoiced at the release of Code Name Verity as a chance to experience a book full of Wein's writing. And I loved it. I loved it so much I decided to revisit The Winter Prince. I have tried and failed to finish that book a total of six times now. Finally I decided to skip it and just start with A Coalition of Lions. Best. Decision. Ever. (For me.) (Though it is wonderfully written and Liz at A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy just posted a great review of it this week.)
Never has a "this if for fans of Megan Whalen Turner" recommendation worked for me. It usually just ends in disappointment and rage. Not here. The recommendation in this case is perfect. Of course, Mrs. Turner herself recommends these book so it's hardly surprising. I fell in love with Telemakos in the previous book and that love only grew in The Sunbird. A few years have past and Aksum is being put under a quarantine due to a plague sweeping the world. Yet the plague found its way in anyway. Someone is issuing orders in the Emperor's name and he wants to discover who. Telemakos is still so young, but his abilities to make himself invisible in plain sight and hear and remember everything set him apart for the job. But he is still SO YOUNG. That is what I enjoyed about this story actually, watching Telemakos learn and figure out his trade. It was fascinating seeing his mind work through possible problems, possible solutions, and arrive at plans. At the same time is story his a heart-wrenching one. His relationship with his father is not what he wants it to be. His father is not the man he wants him to be. And of course since Wein is not afraid to do bad things to her beloved characters, Telemakos doesn't make it out of his adventures unscathed. I enjoyed the further development of Medraut and Goewin and their difficult sibling relationship as well. So much character development and so well done with an adventurous twisty plot full of intrigue. And it's only 185 pages. That takes serious skills.
The Lion Hunter
Oh. My. Goodness. It's not like I didn't know Elizabeth Wein is completely unafraid of hurting her characters but I expect time to settle into a story before it starts. Not with this one. Man this book starts off intense. Telemakos is strong though and watching him overcome the adversity he faces makes for a great story. Then there is still left over intrigue and fall out from Telamakos's adventures in the previous book. Goewin continues to be my favorite adult character in the books. She is calculating and shrewd and not always completely honest about her intentions, but like her nephew she is a survivor. I like how she does not allow herself to be overcome by grief, sadness, or guilt. She feels those things but they don't become all she is. Her brother could learn some lessons from her. I do like how Wein is dealing with the characterization in this series. She is showing people as they are, with good parts and bad parts. Never simple good or evil. Yet it is hard to watch Telemakos caught in the middle of all that. Particularly when he's still recovering from everything that happens to him. A word of warning: If you read this you will want to have the next book ready to go. It was one of those endings. But I loved how the end reflected the beginning. Oh the symbolism.
The Empty Kingdom
Oh Telemakos, still so young and naive even after all he has suffered. That point was really driven home as this book opened up and found him suffering yet again, only far less so and with less grace. He still remains a character easy to adore and to see the brilliance in. I feel Wein did a great job of rendering an honest portrayal of a tricky adolescence here. Telemakos has been through so much but hadn't grown up yet. I also liked how his strength and will were highlighted in his refusal to take opium for his pain, but it was also made obvious that he wasn't entirely without his need for a crutch. And his reliance on that wasn't healthy for him or his crutch. Again, an excellent portrayal of the shades of gray in all people. Abreha, who Telemakos spends the book resenting, is not an easygoing or nice man, but he is necessary for Telmakos's growth in a way no other person could possibly have been. I love how Telemakos comes to realize this and appreciate it in the end, even if he has no wish to repeat the experience. Despite all of his brilliance, Telemakos misses so much that is right under his nose in this one. This is not a criticism, but a mark of his youth and naivete. It highlights an entirely different aspect of his character. I have thoroughly enjoyed experiencing his journey (well, most of it). I am so sad that it has come to an end. Fortunately I can always go back for a reread. I would be ecstatic if another book were added to this series.
A thought on the whole series: I liked the biblical allusions and symbolism woven through these stories. This is a place that was rich in culture and knew these stories well.
These books are not widely available. A sad state of affairs to be sure. BUT. That is changing. You can now purchase e-books of The Winter Prince and A Coalition of Lions. Wein says the others should be available soon.