There was once, long ago, a foolish king who decreed that women should not, and would not, inherit. Thus when a girl-child was born to Lord Cador – Merlin-enchanted fighter of dragons and Earl of Cornwall – he secreted her away: to be raised a boy so that the family land and honour would remain intact.
That child’s name was Silence.
Silence must find their own place in a medieval world that is determined to place the many restrictions of gender and class upon them. With dreams of knighthood and a lonely heart to answer, Silence sets out to define themselves.
Soon their silence will be ended.
What follows is a tale of knights and dragons, of bards, legends and dashing strangers with hidden secrets. Taking the original French legend as his starting point, The Story of Silence is a rich, multilayered new story for today’s world – sure to delight fans of Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale.
Stories, within a story, within a story. The Story of Silence weaves together the original 13th Century poem with the authors additional insights to make a tale that, though lengthy and of a heavy nature, had me enraptured from the first line and flying through the chapters needing to follow Silence’s story. I became the Minstrel we meet in the first chapter, engrossed to the point of ignoring my body’s need for sleep and food and drink. I’m not usually the biggest fan of historical fiction, but Silence’s story is one I never knew I needed.
“But it could be a wonderful story…’ ‘Stories are wonderful because they aren’t real.’ Alfred retorted. He pulled out his wool cap and snugged it over his ears.’ Life is nothing like a story. Stories leave all the hard parts out”
It starts with twin girls, or does it start earlier than that? When Cador, then a knight, slays a Dragon and gets mortally injured he falls in love with the woman bringing him back to health. She happens to be the daughter and the only child of the Earl of Cornwall. Unfortunately due to King Evans ruling no woman shall inherit, but he likes Cador and so offers him a deal. He may marry the Earls Daughter and if and only if they can provide a male heir the King will allow Cador to retain the Earlship until his son is of age. Only Cador has a daughter, so he secrets her away to Ringmar a hunting lodge and their he informs his nursemaid to raise Silence as a boy, no one need be the wiser. What follows is a sometimes humerus and sometimes sad tale filled with battles, both inner and external, a persons fight to be accepted as they are and the story of a strange and honourable minstrel turned knight
Silence was a character that you cant help but feel for throughout the book. They want the best of both, to be treated as a boy whilst to be known as a girl and unfortunately the world is not quite ready to redefine their gender rolls to allow it. Throughout the book we see their two sides warring with each other, they want to be a boy because that it what their father wants and what they have raised to be, but they also know they are a girl and because of that Lord Cador treats Silence differently than he would a true son. He makes them feel inadequate, never quite believing that they can live up to the standards of being a man, believing that they could never pass as one over a long acquaintance and for that reason Silence has led a sheltered life. Living in isolation, with only their Aunt and Ringmar’s Seneschal Silence never quite learns the truth of being a man or a woman. They curse themselves for ‘unnatural’ feelings, when in reality those feelings are more than natural. And once Silence comes to the realisation that they don’t have to be one thing, they can be anything they want to be, they can be a man and a woman, a minstrel and a knight, I felt my heart leap with joy for them.
I haven’t read the original poem so can’t comment on how much the author has drawn from that and how much is his own story but what I can say is you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins. The bits that the author does add weave into the story with ease, I would almost believe that the original poem had talk of Merlin, of Dragons and scheming minstrels. It’s definitely not a traditional read, in the historical or fantasy sense. It’s quirk and wholly its own and I can honestly say I have never read anything quite like it.
It’s strange to think that a topic so modern (gender identity) was written about in the 13th century, but through Silence we get a wholly unique insight into the historical woman and man. The author does tend towards stereotypes in a way, the drunk minstrel, the scheming and traitorous Queen, but because we are reading this from Silences perspective a person who is neither a woman nor a man, he manages to make the characters seem unique and he fully admits that he has written them in a certain way, but that was simply the way they were perceived at the time and he wanted to make it historically correct.
I can honestly say I had no idea what I was getting into with this book but Silences tale, whilst humorous and insightful was also heartbreaking at times. While this is Silences book completely every single character we meet has a purpose, none are superfluous. If you’re looking for something a little different, maybe out of your comfort zone. A book that will grasp you from the first page, and not let go until the very last word… then I would highly recommend giving this a try.