The Prince Who Walked with Lions by Elizabeth Laird

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The Prince Who Walked with Lions by Elizabeth Laird

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Orphaned prince Alamayu is brought from a warm and loving home in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) to the rigours of a Victorian public school, with its casual brutality, social divisions and rigid code of ethics.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2012
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780230752436

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

This book is closely based on the story of a real boy, Prince Alamayu of Abyssinia, whose short life was divided between his beloved African home and Britain, the country of the people who conquered his father's kingdom. In fact, his grave can still be seen at St George's Chapel, Windsor. For his first few years he was brought up surrounded by servants, luxury and power, with a loving mother and a fierce but adored warrior father. But the king, a despotic and, some would say, reckless man, challenged the might of the British Army by chaining up and imprisoning the European envoys sent to negotiate with him, simply because he found them irritating. This action led to the attack on his lands and consequently the downfall of the Abyssinian monarchy.

We first meet Alamayu at Rugby School, where he has been sent to learn how to behave like a proper English gentleman. This is a double sorrow to him, because once he arrived in England he found, in the home of the red-haired soldier Captain Speedy a second loving family. But the 'grey men' of government decree that he must have a proper education, and he is handed over to the cheerless care of Dr Jex-Blake, Headmaster of Rugby. Historical evidence suggests this was against the express wishes of Queen Victoria who was fond of the orphaned, lonely boy and often invited him to visit her.

With the wisdom of insight, Alamayu is able to understand that to the red-coated and efficient British soldiers, his capital city on the top of flat-topped Mount Magdala had seemed merely a village, and his father a brutal man who did not hesitate to chop the hands and feet off hundreds of Abyssinian prisoners before sending them tumbling over the cliff edge to their death. But he also knows that through his mother he can trace his bloodline right back to King Solomon himself, and that while the British Queen, Victoria, may reign over many lands, she could never look as regal and commanding as his father. Why, she doesn't even have any lions walking around her compound!

Alamayu is a reluctant scholar, excelling only in horse-riding, football and shooting, but he makes the best of his new life and even makes some friends, outsiders like himself. He is bullied at Rugby by the charismatic Carson, who subtly undermines his confidence and insinuates that there is no point in trying to succeed because as a black man he will never really belong in Britain. When the book opens he is in the sick bay, racked with fever and debilitating weakness, and his mind fills with long suppressed memories of his home land and his life as a small child, before the British came. He begins to understand more clearly the events which brought him to this place, and he dreams of one day returning to the land of his ancestors and claiming his birth right, promising himself he will rule with wisdom and fairness. With him we relive the grief he felt at losing his parents, his terror when he experienced his first train journey, and his anxiety he feels because he does not know correct British etiquette (he is horrified at the thought that he almost bowed to a footman at Osborne, believing him to be a nobleman).

Elizabeth Laird is a highly respected writer whose warmth and empathy shine through in her many books about children in other lands. She is not afraid to tackle issues (which she calls Big Words) such as forgiveness, loyalty and endurance. Readers who enjoy this or any of her other books will like the interview she gave Bookbag a year or so ago: it gives a clear idea of her humanity and the way she creates her characters.

Other excellent books by the same author about boys and girls torn from their homes or simply trying to survive include Lost Riders, and Oranges in No Man's Land.

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