The Bird and the Sword
I discovered Amy Harmon’s writing in the spring of 2014. In fact, A Different Blue was my very first review for AAR. Since then, I’ve read almost her entire backlist, and have eagerly awaited new releases.
I was pleased to see The Bird and the Sword was available in audio format, as Ms. Harmon’s lyrical, emotive prose lends itself very well to audiobooks. I bought it immediately, and settled in for what I was sure would be a great listen. Unfortunately, several things kept this from being the case.
The story is set in a world that has a medieval feel to it. There is no technology. The king has complete power, and women are little more than chattel. Magic has been outlawed, and those who are found to possess magical gifts are executed.
Lark is a young woman of noble birth, living under a curse placed upon her by her mother before that lady’s rather violent death. Lark cannot speak. In fact, she is incapable of making a single sound and her father only keeps her around because his late wife cursed him as well; if Lark dies, so will he. So, Lark is a virtual prisoner in her father’s home.
Her father has an eye to power, and believes that he will overthrow the king and ascend the throne if King Trias can be proven unfit to rule. Lark knows this, but feels powerless to do anything about it.
Trias is no dummy. He takes Lark prisoner, hoping her father will not move against him as long as Lark dwells inside the palace walls. Once Trias and Lark are in close proximity, both are forced to reveal secrets that could signal the end of both their lives.
Lark’s secret is known to the listener from the very beginning of the book – she is able to control the world around her with her words. You may be wondering how this is possible since Lark is mute. At first, I was confused by it too, but basically, Lark has only to think something and it will happen as she wills it to. Animals and inanimate objects are the easiest for Lark to control, but certain people are susceptible as well. As you might imagine, Trias is one such person. He can hear Lark’s “voice” in his head, and they are able to converse with one another. This is sort of good, as it allows the romantic relationship to deepen in a way it might otherwise not have due to lack of communication. On the other hand, it seems a little too good to be true. No one in her father’s house was able to hear Lark, but as soon as she meets Trias, this miraculous thing occurs.
Trias teaches Lark to read and write. During these lessons, they form a friendship and eventually, Trias decides to make Lark his queen, despite the fact she possesses an illegal gift which has led many to execution in the past. He figures he can use her ability to combat his many enemies, some of whom have magical gifts of their own.
For her part, Lark isn’t sure she wants to rule, but what other choice does she have? Returning to her father’s home isn’t an option, and she finally decides she would much rather be of use to Trias. But the counsel of Lords, of which her father is a member, has different ideas, and they set a trap for the king, in hopes of keeping him from marrying Lark. Of course, Lark is able to use her gift to circumvent this trap, and she and Trias get married.
Ms. Harmon’s writing is just as lush and poetic as I have come to expect. She does more telling than showing here, but the beauty of her words makes it a more enjoyable story than it might otherwise have been. However, beautiful writing isn’t all that is required in order to tell a compelling story. Her world-building is decent, but not necessarily inspired, some aspects of its magic were difficult for me to wrap my head around, and I had some questions that were never answered. There were even some contradictory passages when the magical creatures were introduced, leaving me quite confused.
It was hard for me to fully believe in the relationship between Lark and Trias. Lark, in particular, can be incredibly petulant. She does not act like a queen, but Trias doesn’t seem to mind this. He claims to love her, but is constantly telling her how useful she is to him. I saw no real evidence of their love for each other.
When I read fantasy, I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief – after all, that’s kind of the point! Even so, there are some events that can’t be excused or hand-waved away simply because of the fact that the book is a fantasy novel. If a character dies, and I mean really and truly dies, I find it unpalatable for them to later be brought back to life. I can’t say more about this without giving away the ending, but it was something I felt I had to at least mention here.
This was my first experience with Trina Nishimura’s narration. Her normal narrative voice is pleasing to the ear, and her character differentiation is quite good. However, she has a tendency to be overly dramatic in her reading. When she performs an emotional scene, regardless of whether the emotion is sadness or anger, she speaks with a very noticeable catch in her voice. I could have dealt with this if it had been used to denote great sadness, for example, but it was really distracting to hear it whenever the emotion was high, and regardless of the emotion being portrayed.
There were a few times when I felt as though Ms. Nishimura was rushing some scenes along. Maybe she was trying to heighten the emotion in a battle scene, but it just sounded like speed reading, and it pulled me right out of the story. I’m normally a fan of narrators who use increased or decreased speed to lend some emotion to a scene, but it didn’t work here.
Sadly, I find myself unable to recommend The Bird and the Sword. True, it is Ms. Harmon’s first attempt at writing fantasy, but I’m afraid that fact is just a little too obvious. Ms. Nishimura’s narration also counts against the book. Ms. Harmon should perhaps stick to writing contemporary romances, since she does it so incredibly well.
Breakdown of Grade: Narration: C Content: C-
Running Time: 11 hours, 3 minutes