The Story of Silence by Alex Myers

Author: Alex Myers
Release date: July 9, 2020
Publisher:  HarperVoyager
Genre: Fantasy, Arthurian Romance, Fairy-tale
Goodreads: Here 

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.


Truth be told, I would not have discovered this book had Goldsboro Books not showcased it as their July 2020 pick for their GSFF (Goldsboro Science Fiction & Fantasy) subscription; and had HarperVoyager UK not been kind enough to provide me a digital galley to read. Given the extensive efforts to market this book, of course I had to read for myself what the hype was about.

I must also confess that I’m not quite familiar with the original French legend this book is retelling – Le Roman de Silence – but I managed to catch up pretty quickly by the aid of ye old Google. I have to thank the author for including a foreword as it made me aware of its original source and to consider what the book did to its source material.

The Triumphs

The Story of Silence is a captivating book indeed – its lyrical, fairy-tale like prose sure to delight fans of Uprooted, The Bear and the Nightingale, and Strange the Dreamer. It is a tale of a knight finding themselves caught between Nature and Nurture due to forces outside their own choosing – a result of avarice, foolishness, and ambition of others. The book stays relatively true to the broad strokes of its source material, Le Roman de Silence, yet it takes a form of its own: the theme of nature vs nurture takes centre stage to expand on Silence exploring their identity as they move towards their dreams of knighthood and how it affects their relationships to the people they meet throughout the story.

Reading this book was truly a delight since I greatly enjoyed the prose of Strange the Dreamer, and the lyrical nature of the prose brought on the fantastic, fairy tale-like feel of the story – breathing it life.

The Downsides

The Story of Silence, however, is not an easy book to read as the tale is set in a time that isn’t kind in its treatment or perception of women – and it shows. I have to commend Myers’s guts to retain the problematic portrayal of women that is common in Arthurian-era tales. Not only was it true to the times it was set, it was handled with much complexity and care as the book explores the nuance of both women who enforce stereotypical views and women who aspire for more (with varying, mixed results) – contributing to Silence’s struggle with their identity. While it made for great depth to explore the layers of Silence’s tale, this aspect was still not easy to get through but I assure that this struggle is worth it.

An Underdog Tale Reminiscent of Another French Classic

I have to say that while reading The Story of Silence, I was reminded of another French classic Sans Famille by Hector Malot. I had read a translation of this book growing up; and the underdog, coming-of-age elements in The Story of Silence brought back the fascination, pathos, sympathy, and wonder from my experience reading Sans Famille. If you’re a fan of the novel, I’m sure The Story of Silence will be a delight to read.

Concluding Thoughts

The Story of Silence is an extraordinary retelling of Le Roman de Silence. Myers’s retelling morphs the original classic into a journey coming to terms with one’s identity in-between the established, normative binary – shifting the primary focus of the tale to one’s agency in the lifelong journey for self-discovery. I was really pleased with how The Story of Silence manages to draw on literary aspects I loved from previous works I’ve read (e.g. Strange the Dreamer, Sans Famille, The Bear and the Nightingale) and yet retain a heart and a style of its own which is not easy to do especially when it comes to retellings. Combined with Myers’s lyrical prose, The Story of Silence makes for a pleasing, nuanced take of the romantic classic.

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to NetGalley and HarperVoyager UK for providing an e-ARC of this book for an honest review.

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