An Arthurian tale, adapted from a 13th century lost poem, containing dragons and knights but tackling the fluid notion of gender? Sign me up! Literally! Thank you to Eidelweiss+ and HarperVoyager for the opportunity to read this in exchange for an honest review.
Silence is born a girl, but due to the laws of inheritance is raised a boy, with only 3 people knowing their true gender (one of whom, initially, is not Silence). The Story of Silence follows Silence from birth, showing their struggles between Nature and Nurture in the medieval period.
The writing style of this fantasy novel is remarkable, with an almost lyrical, ballad quality to it. The settings of Cornwall, and later Brittany, are described in such a way that captivates the reader, transporting them to the jousting fields, the towering castles and the courts of Earls and Kings.
The writing is at a slower pace, a literary journey rather than a sprint and for that reason I didn’t quite get the feeling of “I can’t put this down”, particularly in the middle of the novel. However, the twists and turns in Silence’s life were always quick to pull me back in.
As a character, the reader loves Silence from the very beginning. None of the struggles of their life are of their own making. Indeed, there are moments within this story where it would have been much simpler to tell the truth but Silence does not, displaying true knightly qualities of courage and loyalty. If I had one criticism of this book it is that, after his first “courses”, Silence doesn’t seem to find disguising his Nature very difficult., Yes, he binds his chest but he also travels on the road with male companions for years with no further mention of the more natural signs of his true nature.
The cast of characters surrounding Silence are also excellent, we have the troubled Earl Cador who, despite his original plan, it seems cannot love his child as he should; Griselle and the seneschal who do love and care for Silence and then there is Merlin.
Now, I know Silence should be my favourite character but Merlin stole the show in my opinion! There is no stoical wizard in Myers’ world, oh no! Merlin is a naked, disgusting old man who has an awful habit of laughing out loud at the unseen futures of those he passes. I also appreciated how Merlin wasn’t a solution to Silence’s problems (in fact the opposite is true!). Despite the magical undercurrent within this story, Merlin doesn’t fix everything with the flick of a magic wand – conversely he forces Silence to look inside and solve their own riddle, emphasising that you do not need to fit into one category or another, you can be both, you can be what you decide to be.
It should also be noted that, up to this point in the novel, Silence is referred to with the male pronoun, as that is how he sees himself. He is a boy. He is a knight! However, on processing Merlin’s world this pronoun notably changes to they and their. A beautiful detail that resonated how Silence had accepted their true identity.
The characterisation of women in The Story of Silence is something that has been picked up on a lot by my fellow reviewers and yes, the women in this book are often sex-crazed, deceitful, disloyal creatures. This is also an issue that is directly discussed within the author’s note, further proving that this was not an intentional slight on women. Alex Myers is an author, they are telling a story and that story takes place in the 13th century when, unfortunately, women were depicted like this. The main despicable action by a woman is essential to stay true to the poem. Was it frustrating as a female reader? Sometimes. But are there an equal number of ugly characteristics shown in the male characters? Absolutely!
The Story of Silence is a slow-burning tale which steadily unfurls into a captivating narrative which will stay with the reader long after the final page. The original 13th century poem captures the concept of gender so beautifully but Alex Myers takes this even further, handling Silence’s journey with love and compassion. I feel very lucky to have read this.