A Coalition of Lions by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The quasi-historical story of the daughter of King Arthur, A Coalition of Lions sends its heroine, Goewin, to Africa and Aksum to face a perilous political situation and a hostile would-be bridegroom. My initial impression of this novel was negative for a reason that was only partly the fault of the writing: nowhere on the book does it clearly indicate that this is the second novel of a series, so when the first several pages were consumed by a rapidfire, rather dry summary of what had gone before, I was irritated and felt the author had started the book in the wrong place. Finding out that this was a sequel, I let go of my indignation - but I still feel that the recap was hamhandedly handled for new readers.
As a personal aside, I was further disconcerted by the initial names. In Welsh mythology (which meets / intersects with Arthurian) Goewin is the foot-holder (and later, the wife) of high king Math, and Lleu is the son of the king's subsequent foot-holder ... anyhow, this tangent to explain why, among the mythologically-saturated opening, I was dearly confused to find Goewin and Lleu as sibling children of Artos.
Once past this rocky start, however, I found myself absorbed in the characters and conflict. The narrative is lyrical yet in many ways, minimalist - the descriptions are evocative yet sparse, prompting the reader to fill in the blanks without noticing that the gaps exist. And despite the fact that almost the entire novel is a series of conversations, often political and sometimes stiltedly formal by the necessity of the venue ... it was never dull, always absorbing. Telemakos flashes through here as an absolutely superb portrait of brilliant childhood.
This is a rich and distinct narrative, a striking read ... but not without its flaws. The love story implied within leaves me unconvinced. While I am the first person to bang my head against the wall over romances too-obviously wrought, this one goes in the other direction: it was so subtle and poorly supported that I didn't believe it. Similarly, Goewin's later change of opinion towards Constantine didn't seem supported by actions in the narrative - and since that very much affected the outcome of the book, I found it weakened the plot.
Overall, this was an absorbing read despite its flaws. I don't feel completely satisfied by the novel and its resolutions, but it was an enjoyable visit to another time and place.
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