I have been spending this summer reading and thinking about retellings and reinterpretations of stories taken from the European Middle Ages, and Alex Myers The Story of Silence is probably the one that stands out most. Based on the thirteenth-century text “Le Roman de Silence”, The Story of Silence uses the background of medieval courtly culture to interrogate gender normativity. Despite being a tale of knights and minstrels, it is in no way a dusty tale of times past, but one discussing themes incredibly relevant to the present day. As the cover suggests,
“A knight must have courage to be who they are.”
I am incredibly grateful to Harper Voyager for sending me a review copy of this wonderful book. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 09/07/20
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: 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. (from Harper Voyager)
OPINIONS: The Story of Silence reads both like a fantastical tale of knights and quests, and a thoroughly modern story of identity. Through its lyrical prose and allegorical style of writing it will appeal not only to the traditional reader of a Harper Voyager book, but also to a more general literary audience. It is a compelling story – I read through it in a day after I received my copy and have been thinking about it and recommending The Story of Silence to whomever would listen ever since.
I think the only thing I kept thinking of The Story of Silence as a point of criticism is a packaging decision. Throughout, I wished that Harper Voyager had printed a translation of “The Roman de Silence” which the story is based on, a fairly short medieval text, alongside the novel, but I think that is a very niche complaint I have as someone who appreciates those kinds of texts.
Silence is a really interesting character – I will be using they/them pronouns for them in this review, as there is a variety of different pronouns used for them throughout the story. They are born a girl, raised as a boy and ultimately have to discover their identity for themselves. By being raised outside of society and the norms associated with their assigned gender, Silence is confronted with the challenge of figuring out who they are and how they fit into the world at large once they leave their isolated upbringing. While their story is told retrospectively by themselves, it is done so in a linear manner as they figure things out, and not from the perspective of an omniscient narrator. As the author himself is trans, these explorations of gender identity are nuanced and ring true. It is not a simple thing, but a lengthy process taking Silence most of the story to come to terms with and find some kind of answer to. I hope that any books involving the discovery process of trans characters that I am going to read in the future will have such an insightful and thoughtful portrayal.
Many of the remaining characters are archetypes rather than fleshed out people, which adds to the starkness of the story instead of detracting from it. Their one-dimensional nature fits the schematic setting of the tale, where Silence is moving through a set world, fully fleshed out and ready to become their best self. Simply said, The Story of Silence is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend you give it a chance. I know I will be re-reading it soon. Add it on Goodreads here, and order a copy from your retailer of choice – I’m partial to the beautiful sprayed-edge edition Forbidden Planet has on offer here…