Cover Image: The Story of Silence

The Story of Silence

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Member Reviews

This was such a good book. I really enjoy books with gender neutral characters.
Hooked from the start, and couldn't put it down.
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I found it a fascinating read, a story about coming to term with what we are.
The plot and the characters are fascinating, the world building is excellent and the plot flows and kept me hooked.
It's the first book I read by this author and won't surely be the last.
Recommended.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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This is such a good book, the story of a Nonbinary knight discovering their way in the world, and discovering who they really are. As much as I enjoyed it, I gave it like a 3.75/3.5 and rounded up to 4, the pacing in the middle dragged to the point where it took me much longer to finish this than anticipated. I couldn't get over how the story just took so long to conjure up, but, the last five chapters were AMAZING. Thanks so much to HarperVoyager UK and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion with this wonderfully original and old school story of Knights with fantastic rep.
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A warm, lyrical tale of acceptance; of finding your own place in the world no matter where along the gender spectrum you fit, whether that moves based on Nurture. And the fight against Nature – which can be hidden, and which doesn’t define you. This is a retelling of an old medieval poem Le Roman de Silence, and perhaps also posits that ‘way back then’ was a time before the very idea of gender binaries. I cannot say whether the representation here was good, as I’m not non-binary, but the central storyline of Silence’s struggle with their gender identity was highly intriguing, and thought-provoking.

To summarise, the story is about Silence, who was born a girl, but would be raised as a boy (to protect her father-Earl’s claim to Cornwall, as the King decreed that women could not inherit land, and would therefore fall back into his hands should a female heir be born). They dream to become a knight, are raised in the woods away from court, and runaway to follow this dream. Along the way, they become a minstrel and find somewhere to belong, for a while. This tale is intertwined in Arthurian legend, and Merlin is a central point to the plot. There are great battles, heart-warming relationships, heart-rending scenes and, as a whole, the book is fun and deftly written. I can say that this was one book that I couldn’t put down for Heldis’ telling of the tale was so darn captivating.

Told from the point of view of a bard, who has been told the story by Silence, the book’s voice full of character, and artistic flair. Silence is a character that I would follow to the ends of the earth, for there is no greater example of knightly virtues than them. Though, there are a few aspects of the book that one might find hard to read; the portrayal of women in this piece is very poor, and upon research I’ve found that this is an aspect of taken from the original source material which is prevalent in chivalric poems: women sat on either an extreme of chaste and virtue or were cunning, and wicked, set to test the knights’ own values.

The saving grace, Myers presents this all from a point of research, and while this book is certainly writhe with difficult topics, from my limited point of view, it is handled well and leads to positive introspection.

Main themes aside, this is an adventure, of someone following their dreams and finding much more; the battles scenes are clustered, desperate and so immersive that you see the arrows flying towards you as you dig the spurs into your horse, falling into the mud and scrambling out. In the taverns, you can hear the beer sloshing and the bard playing.

Please, pick up Silence’s story, I couldn’t recommend it enough. Thanks to Natasha Bardon for the copy, when I requested one, I didn’t quite realise how great it would be.
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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.
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My thanks to HarperVoyager for a digital edition via NetGalley of ‘The Story of Silence’ by Alex Myers in exchange for an honest review.

This is a lyrical tale of kings and knights, of wizards and dragons adapted from a 13th century chivalric romance, Le Roman de Silence, attributed to Heldris of Cornwall. It has some links to Arthurian lore including the involvement of Merlin, in his wild man of the woods phase.

In the tale King Evan had passed a decree that meant that women cannot inherit. When a daughter is born to Lord Cador, Earl of Cornwall, he has her secreted away and raised as a boy so that his lands will remain in the family. The child is named Silence.

Silence is raised ignorant of his nature and seeks to find his place in a medieval society where gender and class roles are strictly defined. Silence dreams of becoming a knight, even after he is made aware of the nature of his birth.

One of the major themes of the tale is nature versus nurture. Myers is quite faithful to the original poem though expands and reimagines aspects such as Silence’s travels with a troupe of wandering minstrels and his time in France. He also “added a bit more of Merlin because–well, because it’s Merlin.” 

I love Arthurian lore especially when it involves Merlin so approved wholeheartedly. This was an enchanting story and so well told. The fight and battle scenes were very exciting and I felt as though I was right in the midst of the action. 

I bought the audiobook edition, narrated by James Mac, and listened alongside reading the ebook. It was a wonderfully immersive experience. I felt that James Mac perfectly captured the wide variety of characters. 

As with many works of the medieval period there is earthy humour and some quite bawdy scenes and language. There is a wonderful cat, aptly named Mooch, and a crow that serves Merlin. There is also an evil queen and the occasional Fae. Just perfect given my love of fairy tales. 

In the Preface Myers relates the fascinating story of how the manuscript containing Le Roman de Silence was discovered in 1911 at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham in a crate marked ‘Old papers–no value’. The eighteen stories contained in the manuscript are thought to have been copied for Lady Beatrice de Gavre on the occasion of her marriage in 1286. How exciting to discover an unknown poem over seven hundred years old!

I also felt Myers resisted temptation to modernise the story or overly meddle with it. In the Author’s Note Myers does address problematic aspects of the narrative that reflect the deeply misogynistic views of women in the medieval period. 

Overall, I found this is a wonderful, timeless story beautifully told. I plan to take up Myers’ suggestion and read the English translation of the original poem.

Highly recommended.
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I liked the idea of this story and while it wasn't quite what thought it would be, I really enjoyed it! I felt the themes of coming to terms with who you are and what you want your life to be. And going to get it,, no matter who tells you that you can't! 
A wondeful tale.
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This was a really nice read. I do like a story that starts with a sit down in a inn, and a stranger’s story to be told. It always puts me in a good frame of mind.

The story of silence is a tale about a girl who is raised to be a boy in order for her father to keep her land, and must keep up this ruse, dealing with the struggle of who they are (nature vs nurture), versus the expectation on them to be a strong knight, woo women, etc whilst never giving away the secret. 

It’s a really enjoyable story, and you have to feel for Silence, the impossible position she has been forced into for her fathers benefit.

My thanks to Netgalley and HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction
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3.5 rounded up to 4 stars!

Drawing from a 13th century French tale, <I> Le Roman de Silence </I> , the novel tells the story of Silence, a knight caught between Nature and Nurture. The author not only explores the rigid confines of gender, but also writes of the ways avarice and ambition come into conflict with one’s desire for honesty and honour.

Silence’s character is really well explored, and I really enjoyed how Meyers charted their course from childhood to adulthood. Myers’ prose reminds me of storybooks and fairytales, and Silence’s adventures are really brought to life by stunning descriptions of magic, enchanted forests and towering castles. The way Silence fights to assert their own agency despite countering outside forces speaks of a journey of self-discovery, of rebelling against the norm in such a stifling medieval society, 

That being said, the book dragged a bit towards the middle, and even Myers’ lyrical writing could not capture my attention for more than a few minutes at a time. I admit, I’m quite... okay, I’m very unsatisfied by the ending (which I will not spoil). I think that the ending came along too quickly and suddenly, and the overall effect was jarring. Despite this, the final quarter of the book was fantastic, and the descriptions of battles and politics not only quickened the novel’s pace, but had me rooting for Silence as if I was riding into war with them.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this book.
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The Story of Silence is a captivating book – 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 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.

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.

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.
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My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher and author for the opportunity to read this novel in exchange for an honest review.

This novel is a tale within a tale and is a retelling of an Arthurian legend.  It was one I hadn't heard of before but I did recognise most of the character names in the other stories told within the novel.  Twin girls married two knights who, rather than sharing the inheritance their wives afforded them, chose to fight for it.  They were equally matched and killed each other so the King declared no woman could inherit property and sent the ladies to a convent.  Sir Cador later met an married a woman whose father owned all of Cornwall.  Cador had killed a dragon with Merlin's help so they were offered the chance to inherit the land if they had a boy.  The couple makes arrangements to have the child hidden away in one of their smaller holdings if it is a girl, and be raised as a boy.  This comes to pass when Silence is born, and her mother died shortly after, ruining the chances of having a boy and Cador's chance to inherit.

I'm not an expert on Arthurian legends by any means but you don't have to be in order to read and enjoy the novel.  It's easy to read, and a fun and entertaining story set in a time when magic was around but not everywhere.  If anything, other than the mentions of Merlin being a real character, it could be forgotten it's an Arthurian tale at all.  Despite its medieval setting it still has resonance with a modern world and the question of gender, both its definition and restriction.

Silence is not told he is a girl until he is thirteen, is never referred to as she, and is told he needs to fight his nature as a girl in order to pass as a boy.  Although this is to allow Cador, and later Silence, to inherit Cornwall, in a modern world it's a commentary on gender identity.  When Silence realises the difference he does not want to be a girl, he wants to be a knight.  Not only the gender identity aspect, there's the commentary of restrictions put on women in this world (by this I mean the setting of the novel but there is still a certain bias on some things tied to a person's gender) which are very clearly defined.  A lady tells Silence that she was told a woman's thoughts must be that of her husband's and that a wife cannot be curious about the world, and that's just one example.  This is handled well throughout the novel where it points out the difference in experience Silence has by posing as a man.

Social commentary aside, this is simply a fun and entertaining story told in an easy to read novel that's well worth your time if you're interested in Arthurian legends, medieval sword and shield fiction or light fantasy.
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Although I knew nothing about the original poem, I felt this book seemed too good not to pick up. And for the most part, I was right. I found a story like nothing I'd ever read before. 

The writing is beautiful and really ebbs and slows. Unfortunately, that isn't quite enough to detract from the fact that in places, the plot is painstakingly slow. 

Silence is a wonderfully written character. They are definitely the strongest part of this book, and the reason I kept reading it even when the pacing was too slow for my liking. 

A thought provoking masterpiece, Story of Silence is a beautiful tale.
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From the beginning, I fell in love with the prose in this book. It is beautifully lyrical and pulls you into it as though you’re sat around a fire listening to bard telling you a story, the words flowing around you, and it fits the story perfectly. This is a slower story, so not for someone looking for lots of action and relentless pacing, but it is well-paced, the story moving with the journey, and I very much enjoyed the slower approach. And although there were places where it felt a little too meandering, it was always worth it in the end.
     To some extent, this book felt more like historical fiction with a dash of whimsy and magic, but it works well, and it provides an interesting discussion of several aspects including gender, nature vs nurture, and finding your own identity, without being too heavy-handed in its exploration. The world-building itself was relatively limited, although what we are given about the main setting of Cornwall was as with everything beautifully written, but the world wasn’t central to the story – Silence was.
    In fact, beyond the prose, I would say that the protagonist and namesake for the book – Silence – was the main strength of this book. In part, this is because the secondary characters didn’t have much development beyond what was necessary, although in a way I liked that because it kept the lens on Silence who was a fascinating, compelling character from start to finish. I rarely read books where the main characters can be described as ‘nice’ in the genuine sense, but Silence is one of those people, and you can’t help but come to care for them, their dreams and journey, and more importantly their struggle with their gender identity.
     A warning perhaps, that the representation of women will not appeal to everyone, although it is in keeping with the type and period of the story – with little room for variation between women of high virtue, and those of low virtue meant to test the Knights. However, despite this, there was care taken with their portrayal, and the nuance of their roles and aspirations were woven into the story. So while at odds with what we expect today, I felt that it was an interesting exploration, especially with how it impacted on Silence’s struggles, growth and relationship with gender.
   This is very much a story of self-discovery and empowerment through that. As a non-binary person, I appreciated the exploration and portrayals in this book, it was nuanced and thought-provoking, although it may not be the same for everyone. However, I would highly recommend this beautifully written book, particularly if you love lyrical prose and a slower-paced tale.
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I’m a sucker for a good Arthurian legend, especially the courtly romances that appeared in the 12th and 13th centuries! The Story of Silence is based around one of those romances, Le Roman de Silence if you want to get specific; but admittedly this was not one I had read before or one I included in my dissertation so I was excited to pick up this modern retelling.

This book is so so easy to read, and wholly enjoyable. It’s so lyrical and smooth that I would love to hear it as an audiobook, and the writing style feels like a bardic tale rather than a modern novel. I also thoroughly enjoyed the pacing, its admittedly rather slow and not a lot happens, but it was paced so well that this didn’t bother me too much.

The whole plot of The Story of Silence, unsurprisingly, revolves around Silence. They’re the only character that really gets any development throughout the novel, but again this didn’t bother me. Silence is such a compelling protagonist with their honest and kind nature, they truly embody all the knightly virtues. It’s wonderful to watch them break away from their father and go off on their own adventure, and the story was just a joy to read. There are other characters who help and hinder Silence along their journey, including Merlin, but this novel is really driven by our protagonist.

The Story of Silence also takes a deep look at gender both through the treatment of Silence and the characters around them. The book explores nature vs nurture as Silence makes their journey towards knighthood and how accepting both can empower them, it’s all about self-discovery and I loved it! 
I’m not non-binary so I can’t say whether the representation here is good, but Silence’s struggle with their gender identity was central to the storyline and very interesting.

The, uh, representation of women in this will certainly not appeal to everyone but is typical of a chivalric romance. Women were either incredibly virtuous and chaste or the complete opposite so that they could be used to test the Knights in question. You get both kinds of women in this novel, and there is a fake rape accusation in the latter chapters, but this is all used to further enhance Silence’s struggle with their gender.

All in all, this is a rather enjoyable read! It’s a fascinating and nuanced look at gender identity through a 13th-century lens, and I really loved the author’s take on a lesser-known romance.

Recommend: Yes! If you’re looking for a nice easy read with a wonderfully lyrical style, this one is definitely for you
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This is an interesting experiment: taking a thirteenth century French chivalric romance and turning it into a prose fable about a transgender individual. While it becomes absolutely contemporary with a gender-neutral protagonist, the original poem proves that the very idea of gender binaries was *always* more fluid in the past. I think gender only really becomes codified in the nineteenth century. Classical myths give us Tiresias, the Amazons, Iphis and Caenus, Hermaphroditus; the Renaissance is packed with Amazons in texts like Orlando Furioso, Philip Sidney's two Arcadias, one of which also has a young man dressed up as an Amazon foreshadowing all those complicated double disguises in Shakespeare (a boy actor playing the female Rosalind who dresses up as a boy in 'As You Like It). I think what I'm saying is that this novel is less revelatory, transgressive and 'modern' than it might as first appear.

The French original, 'Le Roman de Silence' is hardly well known and so it's not possible to see from this book what Myers has done with it. It would really have been ideal to have had an introduction or afterword that outlined the medieval poem and had some kind of discussion about its gendered context. 

I also thought that this version (what is it? a translation? a reception? a retelling?) is too long and tends to sag in some of the set pieces especially given that many of them (the killing of the dragon, the false rape accusation) are derived from earlier texts (the latter seems to draw on both Gawain and the Green Knight and the classical Hippolytus by Euripides, rewritten as Phaedra by Seneca). 

So this is a bit like reading a novelisation of, say, Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, or a book from Spenser's The Faerie Queene: the gendered overlay looks contemporary but really showcases that we'd only think that if we don't know the cultural history of gender which is more complex and less progressively linear than is sometimes thought.
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‘The Story of Silence’ is based on a thirteenth century poem about Silence, the only child of the Earl of Cador. The Earl of Cador was promised the fiefdom of Cornwall – but only if he had a son who could inherit. Desperate, the Earl decided that his firstborn child, regardless what sex they were born, would be raised a boy – and thus Silence, by nature female, was raised as a man. The author, Alex Myers, is a transgender writer and teacher, and this book functions as both a fascinating history and an examination of what gender is.

The protagonist, Silence, is a highly compelling individual. They’re one of the genuinely nicest characters I’ve ever read about, and their struggle with their gender identity is poignant and compelling. Silence dreams of being a knight, but their father is terrified of being found out and tries to hide him away with only his dreams, his nanny, and a priest to guide him. I was rooting for Silence throughout – and whilst it’s always obvious that the reveal is coming, plenty happened in between to surprise me, and the ending took a very different direction to what I expected – one that I greatly appreciated.

This is marketed as a fantasy novel, but I’d call it pure historical fiction. There are elements of magic – with Merlin making cameo appearances – but this is essentially a bard’s tale about a famous Knight who happened to have been born in a typically feminine body. The writing is period-appropriate and chronicles the story well. The primary setting of Cornwall is beautifully described, but the writing doesn’t wax lyrical, focusing on Silence and their life rather than anything happening around them. None of the characters save Silence are particularly three-dimensional, but this doesn’t detract – it’s Silence’s story, and the others are simply props in it. Delving deeper into characters like Albert would have changed this from a bard’s tale into something else, and I don’t know that it would have worked so well.

As a cisgender person, I don’t want to comment too much on Myers’s portrayal of gender here, but it was certainly fascinating to read and seemed from an outsider’s perspective to be very well done. Gender divergence is not a new phenomenon, but historical accounts of it are rarely discussed – how Myers presented it here was excellent and, albeit fictional, very believable. I would be interested to now read the original poem and see how much artistic license he took in his portrayal.

Overall, this is a recommended read. It’s a very easy to read book, weaving an enjoyable tale of quests and minstrels and jousting, with an undercurrent of an issue that’s rarely portrayed in fiction. Everyone who enjoys historical fiction should appreciate this, and hopefully it’ll give them something to think about too.
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