The Empty Kingdom: The Mark of Solomon, Book Two
In the conclusion to Wein’s impressive Mark of Solomon duology (and fifth in her Arthurian/Aksumite series for younger readers, set in the 6th century), young Telemakos, the half-Ethiopian grandson of Artos, King of Britain, survives the perils of the court at Himyar (Southern Arabia) and is reunited with his family in Aksum (Ethiopia).
As in The Lion Hunter (2007), Telemakos continues to struggle with the paradoxical situation in which he finds himself. On the one hand, he experiences personal kindness and generosity from the Himyarite ruler and his family; on the other, he is suspected of spying and under the threat of death, constantly watched and guarded wherever he goes and prevented from seeing his beloved younger sister Athena. Moreover, despite his princely birth, he is haunted by nightmares resulting from captivity and abuse in the past and must struggle with ordinary tasks because he has lost an arm. Although he gives way to his fears at times, he masters them with courage, resourcefulness, and determination: despite the loss of an arm, he manages to kill a lion; despite being closely watched, he warns the Aksumites of a plot to seize islands in their possession; at the end he even succeeds in escaping by drugging all aboard a Himyarite ship and swimming to safety. Yet despite the trials and hardships he endures, he rejects vengefulness in favour of forgiveness and compassion.
This is a thoughtful, well-crafted story, involving and suspenseful, and it captures the predicament of children: beloved, yet under an adult authority that can seem harsh and arbitrary; struggling for understanding, yet lacking the necessary knowledge; fluctuating between despair over embarrassing failure and satisfaction over hard-won success.