The Mark of Solomon, Part 1: The Lion Hunter (Viking, 2007)
Shortlisted for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2007
School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2007
Kirkus Reviews Best Young Adult Books of 2007
A Horn Book “Mind the Gap” title, 2008
The Horn Book Recommended Summer Reading 2008
Mentioned as one of the year’s best young adult novels in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 21st Annual Collection (2008),
edited by Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant
About the book:
Allies, enemies, traitors, spies . . . .
It is the sixth century in Aksum, Africa. Twelve-year-old Telemakos—the half Ethiopian grandson of Artos, King of Britain—is still recovering from his ordeal as a government spy in the far desert, where he learned who was breaking the Emperor's plague quarantine. But not all those traitors have been accounted for. Before Telemakos is fully himself again, tragedy and menace strike; for his own safety he finds himself sent, with his young sister, Athena, to live with Abreha, the ruler of Himyar—a longtime enemy of the Aksumites, now perhaps a friend. Telemakos’s aunt Goewin, Artos’s daughter, warns him that Abreha is dangerous, a man to watch carefully. Telemakos promises he will be mindful—but he does not realize that Goewin’s warnings will place him in more danger than he ever imagined.
The Sunbird was the first novel about Telemakos. The Lion Hunter continues his story, to be followed by The Empty Kingdom—a two-book sequence called The Mark of Solomon.
Reviews for The Lion Hunter:
t “A spellbinding story of great power fits into a series of intensely told tales. Wein has braided the Arthurian legend with ancient Aksum (Ethiopia). By decree of Goewin, daughter of Artos of Britain, Aksum is under quarantine to keep the plague at bay. Her nephew Telemakos, son of Medraut, has already been a spy at age 12. This part of the saga opens with a heart-pounding scene where, distracted by his new sister's birth, Telemakos is not careful around the palace lions and is grievously injured. Two of the strands that Wein weaves so expertly concern Telemakos dealing with … what he suffered in The Sunbird (2004) and his struggles with his small sister, a colicky and highstrung baby who will not be comforted by any but him. The third is the political situation in Aksum, in which, to keep them safe, both children are sent to the court of a former enemy in Himyar (Yemen). Readers are plunged deep in Telemakos's heart and mind, and his fierce intelligence is set in Wein's sensuous desert landscape of gold and bronze. This volume ends with Telemakos's realization of the extent of the danger he is in and the information he lacks, and will leave readers desperate for The Empty Kingdom, which cannot come soon enough.”
—Kirkus, starred review
t “Wein, whose intricately crafted, emotionally rich saga about a post-Arthurian Ethiopian dynasty has thrilled and engrossed readers, here begins a related two-book sequence that follows an unconventional dramatic arc, using book one to ensnare her protagonist and leaving to book two the work of extracting him. On the day Telemakos's sister is born, a moment of inattention in the lion pit leads to an attack that . . . almost [costs him] his life; during his long convalescence, he becomes devoted to the newborn Athena. Thus, when Telemakos is sent from Aksum to be apprenticed in the court of Abreha, the king of Himyar, Athena is sent with him. Telemakos is still haunted by the torture he endured while exposing a salt-smuggling ring in The Sunbird (rev. 3/04), and in Abreha Telemakos finds a father-figure who helps him address that psychological damage. But the Himyar court is no refuge, and Telemakos is placed in mortal jeopardy. The vividly evoked setting provides a lush backdrop for the story's seemingly casual permutations, and readers' sympathies toward the embattled, wounded hero will draw them on willingly while Wein weaves her web of loyalty and intrigue. That the book ends with Telemakos at the height of peril will only whet readers’ appetites for the sequence’s conclusion.”
—Anita L. Burkam, The Horn Book, starred review
t “This lyrical and complex tale of adventure and betrayal set in sixth-century Africa continues the story of 12-year-old Telemakos, who is recovering from the mental and physical abuse he suffered as a government spy in The Sunbird. His troubles are nowhere near done–he’s attacked by one of the emperor’s pet lions… His cover may have been blown as well. He and his baby sister are sent to live with Abreha, ruler of Himyar–once the enemy of the Aksumites, now possibly an ally, but definitely not to be completely trusted, as the young prince soon learns. …The writing is powerful and the characters are strong and memorable. Telemakos is a fascinating character: intelligent, loving, deeply scarred, and yet almost extraordinarily brave... This is a challenging story complete with a cliff-hanger ending. Readers who make the effort… will be richly rewarded.”
—Mara Alpert, School Library Journal, starred review
“It is with unbridled pleasure that readers will return to Wein's Aksumite empire of the sixth century. Our hero Telemakos is visiting the emperor’s mostly tame lions while awaiting the birth of his sister; when news of her arrival comes, he unwisely runs across the pit, causing the male lion to attack. He lives, but… his wounds fester in the hearts of his parents as well, estranging them from his infant sister. Telemakos, though a picture of waking resilience, is plagued by nightmares, not of the wounds given him by his beloved lion but by memories of the torture inflicted when he was spying for the emperor and his aunt Goewin, the British ambassador, in the salt mines. When it becomes clear that not all of the traitors in the emperor’s quarantine have been caught and that they are still looking to avenge themselves on the spy, Telemakos is sent to study with his uncle in the royal court of Himyar, where he uncovers a plot that will pit his well-honed talent for espionage against his genuine affection for his new home and his instincts for self-preservation. Telemakos grows more and more likable as his vulnerabilities surface behind his childlike springiness: his devotion to his sister, his desire for a less distant father, and his determination to overcome the residual effects of his imprisonment render him humble and accessible despite the fact that he is clearly exceptional, even kingly, at twelve years of age. After the lion attack shatters the quiet domesticity to which Telemakos has returned after his earlier adventures, Wein keeps the tension quiveringly high even at moments of rest and relative calm; readers sense that Telemakos must never again make the mistake of complacency in the presence of those who are mostly tame, be they lions or men. Sequel to follow -- quickly, one hopes.”
—Karen Coats, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“Another outstanding tale is Elizabeth E. Wein’s The Lion Hunter, another volume in the exploration of Arthurian characters Wein first began in The Winter Prince, A Coalition of Lions and The Sunbird. Strictly speaking this isn’t fantasy, but its connection to Arthur and its extraordinary setting make it excellent fare for fantasy fans.
“Set in the kingdom of Aksum (which resembles ancient Ethiopia), The Lion Hunter continues the tale of 13-year-old Telemakos. He has barely recovered from a stint of forced labour in the salt mines, where he also served as a spy, when he is mauled by a lion…. Even more frightening are the sinister threats his family receives in the form of dead, mutilated creatures. Hoping to keep Telemakos and his baby sister safe, his parents send them to be tutored at the court of a neighbouring king.
“At first, Telemakos thrives under the kind king’s care. Then he practises his old skill of eavesdropping and learns something that puts him in peril for his life—a mystery that, as the author writes, is ‘to be continued.’
“Yes, this story ends with a nail-biter, so be warned—no closure here. But a protagonist of such substance, integrity and appeal is not to be missed. Intrigue, suspense and a fully realized exotic world give it compelling momentum. Add superb characterization and intelligent plotting, and The Lion Hunter becomes a remarkable achievement, a novel that recalls the work of historical fiction’s great matriarch, Rosemary Sutcliff. Highly recommended; I can hardly wait for its sequel.”
—Deidre Baker, The Toronto Star (the full article is available here)
“A gifted author offers yet another gripping novel in her Arthurian/Aksumite cycle — complex and fascinating works of historical fiction set in the kingdom of Aksum, Africa, in the sixth century. Here she continues the story from her novel The Sunbird about 12-year-old Telemakos, the half-Ethiopian grandson of King Arthur who was imprisoned and tortured after being sent to spy on traitors who were violating the emperor’s plague quarantine. In this sequel, Telemakos is still haunted by nightmares but rejoicing over the birth of a baby sister when he is attacked by the emperor’s pet lion and almost dies of his injuries. When threats start arriving in the royal household, Telemakos and his little sister are sent for safety to a neighboring kingdom. The rewards are many in this densely plotted but fascinating story, rich in invented details that may, or may not, describe the period. The family tree and glossary are helpful. The ending leaves the reader hanging with a ‘to be continued’ in the second Solomon book, to be titled The Empty Kingdom.”
—Jean Westmoore, The Buffalo News
“Although this is Book One in a two-part series called The Mark of Solomon, the main character, an adolescent boy called Telemakos, already has appeared in Wein’s The Sunbird. Set in the sixth century in ancient Ethiopia, The Lion Hunter tells how Telemakos, a former spy for the emperor, flees for his safety, accompanied only by his baby sister. Intrigue and suspense, plus an unusual historical setting, are the draws.”
—Kathy Morrison, The Sacramento Bee
“Wein has created unique and amazing stories about the Arthurian/Aksumite cycle, including The Winter Prince, A Coalition of Lions, and The Sunbird, which have been reviewed in Kliatt. The Lion Hunter begins a new story, with many of the same characters from the previous books. It is best to have read them all, although this one could be read alone, in anticipation of book two in The Mark of Solomon, The Empty Kingdom. . . . The story tells of an Ethiopian family related to Arthur of Britain. Telemakos, a youth, is the primary character in this novel. He has endured being kidnapped and tortured, and at the beginning of this story he is mauled by a lion . . . ; he cares for his infant sister as his parents are distracted by the family's woes. Wein has created a world we can hardly imagine: Ethiopia in the ancient world, with details that bring it all to life.”
—Claire Rosser, Kliatt
“This first title in a proposed series, the Mark of Solomon, draws on Wein’s Arthurian-Aksumite cycle, which concluded with The Sunbird (2004). In the kingdom of Aksum (ancient Ethiopia), young Telemakos is severely wounded while playing with the emperor’s pet lions, just as his mother gives birth to a girl, Athena. In the grief that follows, Telemakos’ parents neglect the infant, and it’s Telemakos who comforts Athena as his body heals. After threats against his aristocratic family escalate, Telemakos is sent to a neighboring kingdom for safekeeping, and his parents, understanding their children’s unbreakable bond, send Athena, too. Telemakos feels blissfully accepted in his new community, but he gradually realizes that this sense of belonging is shockingly unfounded. . . . The richly imagined details create a fascinating ancient world . . . readers will respond to sharp-minded Telemakos as he searches for love, loyalty, and truth in a treacherous world of false appearances.”
—Gillian Engberg, Booklist
“The word that best describes Elizabeth E. Wein’s The Lion Hunter is ‘elegant.’ There’s not a tremendous amount of action, none of the usual whiz-bang special effects stuff that one comes to expect from young adult fiction jonesing for Hollywood these days. Indeed, a significant portion of the book is spent with our hero, Telemakos, in recovery from a near-fatal maiming at the hands of a semi-tame lion, or tending to his infant sister. He learns no wizardly spells, faces no demons except the ones within, and engages in no battles that are fought with anything other than his wits.
“And yet, the book manages to be both gripping and graceful. Telemakos, you see, is a young man in a most unusual position. Linked to both the royal house of [Britain] and of Aksum, the Ethiopian city he calls home, he’s already well sunk into the deadly intrigues that swirl around royalty. At the same time, he’s a frightened, crippled young boy slowly fumbling toward manhood and dealing with an immediate family that’s cracking at the seams. Wein manages both dilemmas with craft and skill, bringing the reader up to date on the events of Telemakos’ three previous adventures (The Winter Prince, A Coalition of Lions, and Sunbird) without sacrificing the pace of her plot to over-long exposition.
“… The book is primarily concerned with getting Telemakos and his excessively affectionate infant sister, Athena, from Aksum to the city of Sana’a, home to Abreha, cousin and possible rival to Aksum’s ruler. Ostensibly sent there to study under his [uncle], the royal astronomer, Telemakos’ journey is really sparked by the desire to get him to safety and away from the cryptic, threatening messages that have been pursuing him at home. Needless to say, though, the journey to supposed safety winds him deeper into intrigue and peril, burdening him with unimaginable secrets and choices.
“… Telemakos and his worlds, both inner and outer, are gorgeously detailed and vividly drawn. The dynamics of his family, from the father who blames himself for Telemakos’ accident to the mother who withdraws from her new child as a result of the tragedy, are note-perfect and heartbreaking.
“Ultimately, The Lion Hunter is not a book one reads with an eye towards ‘what happens?’ It’s far more interested in what might happen next, and why it’s going to happen, and that, in my opinion, makes for a deeply engrossing read.”
—Richard Dansky, Green Man Review