The Story of Silence by Alex Myers is a mix of medieval historical fiction and fantasy, with an LGBTQ+ twist.
Thank you to Natasha Bardon of Harper Voyager UK for sending me a free copy of The Story of Silence via NetGalley, in return for an honest review.
The Story of Silence is a retelling of a medieval poem called Silence, believed to be originally written in 1286. It was written in Old French and discovered in 1911. It starts with a bard in a tavern, who meets a stranger called Silence. He asks Silence about their life, and the book is the story Silence tells. Their father, Lord Cador, married the heiress of the Earl of Cornwall, and King Ewan has decreed that inheritance can only travel through male heirs. Unless Cador has a son, on his death, Cornwall will be returned to King Ewan. So when Cador’s wife gives birth, Cador decides to raise his daughter Silence as a son. Silence is sent to grow up at Ringmar, a hunting lodge, with only his nursemaid and seneschal for company — and the only people who know the true secret of Silence’s Nature.
I have read several books in the past in a medieval setting, of a girl who pretends to be a boy to train as a Knight, such as the the Alanna series by Tamora Pierce and Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett. But in those, the characters all knew and acknowledged that they were women. In The Story of Silence, while Nature has made Silence a woman, they see themselves as a man in every other way. This made it a really interesting read and there are a lot of themes throughout the book about Nature vs Nurture and what really makes you, you.
“Nature is but the mould that forms us,” the nymph said. “Nature might have given you delicate hands, but if you work all day with wood, what happens? …We can form ourselves, through our labour, through our love, through our desire. We can form our own selves, despite what Nature intends.”
I really liked Silence, who has taken all of the stories of Knighthood to heart and is honourable, chivalrous and honest. He is given advice by a Knight when struggling with the pell — Silence learns to hold the sword differently because he is thin and long-limbed. He also struggles to use the lance, having a different body shape and not having the same shoulder strength. He realises that he must do things differently. I thought this was interesting and is something I haven’t seen in previous books. My heart also broke for him, as he wants to be able to tell the world who he really is — be able to live openly as a woman but remain a Knight, but society won’t let him. It was interesting throughout the book to see how differently the women around Silence are treated.
I loved the setting — half of the book is set at Tintagel and Ringmar in Cornwall, and the other half is set in Burgundy in France. I also enjoyed the writing style. It’s intended to sound like a bard telling the tale, and has comments in brackets throughout the story with side-comments. The story is well-paced, and I loved the magical elements around Merlin, dragons and water nymphs!
This is a fantastic read, a mix of fantasy and historical fiction. It’s brilliantly written and I really liked Silence as a character, and his adventure was such an interesting read. I also really enjoyed reading about how he manages in such a male-centric world, where everyone must fit into the same moulds with no space for anyone different or individuality.
The blurb for The Story of Silence
A knightly fairy tale of royalty and dragons, of midwives with secrets and dashing strangers in dark inns. 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.
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.
About the author, Alex Myers
Alex Myers is an award-winning author, teacher, and speaker. The first openly transgender student at Phillips Exeter Academy and Harvard University, Alex began working as an advocate for transgender rights in 1995. Since then, Alex has published three novels. His debut, Revolutionary, tells the story of his ancestor Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man and fought in the American Revolution. He followed this with Continental Divide, which explores masculinity and the American West through the journey of a transgender guy in the 90s from the liberal East Coast to the ranches of Wyoming. His debut fantasy novel, The Story of Silence, takes a 13th century French poem as its basis. Alex consults with schools across the country and around the world on the topic of transgender identity and gender inclusion. He lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two cats.