Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Review: The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon
Title: The Bird and the Sword
Author: Amy Harmon
Rating: 4.5 Stars
I knew nothing about this book before diving in and then, against all odds, I fell in love. The Bird and the Sword is one of the best fantasy novels I've read in a very long time and if this novel is anything to go by, Amy Harmon is swiftly about to become one of my favorite authors.
Our novel begins with a curse. Lark, our heroine, is a Teller; whatever she speaks will come true, by magic. As a young girl, she is caught making puppets fly with her mother, also a Teller, and when her mother takes the blame for the magic, the king kills her in front of Lark's eyes. But before she dies, her mother curses those around her. She tells Lark to remain silent, to keep her magic hidden within her. She tells her husband, next in line for the throne should the king's son die, that his life is tied to Lark's--if he fails to take of her and Lark dies, so does he. And lastly, she curses the king himself. Years later, Lark is mute and kept a prisoner by her father in her home, lest she accidentally harm herself or die and kill him in the process. Lark doesn't think much of her mother's curse, though, despite the faith that her father puts in it. It is only when the king's son, now the new King Tiras, arrives to whisk her off to his palace, that she begins to see that her mother's curse might still exist. And for this king, so unlike his father who murdered her mother, she just might want to try to break it...
This book is just pure magic, from beginning to end, and I loved how the plot twists and revelations all came full circle. Lark is a fascinating heroine, both because she is mute and because she possesses magical abilities. I wrote in my review of A Court of Mist and Fury that fantasy walks a fine line when it uses issues that exist in our day-to-day lives--abusive relationships, disabilities, etc.--and then explains those situations away with magic. In The Bird and the Sword, though, I really loved how Harmon made Lark's disability her strength. Lark grows immensely over the course of the novel and she learns to embrace her disability, never allowing it to inhibit her from anything else she wishes to do.
The fairy-tale writing and curse are, of course, the main plot to this novel but I appreciate that Harmon nevertheless expands upon the world-building and throws us into a world of complex court politics once Lark reaches the kingdom. There is little I love more than a fantasy world where magic and politics co-exist, battling each other for power, and the systematic slaughter of those who possessed magical abilities, even if they were Healers, brought forth powerful messages about race and inequality. Admittedly, I was not a fan of how these deep, complicated issues were resolved rather quickly by the end of the novel, but that's a slight fault to have with a novel so wonderfully crafted.
The Bird and the Sword shines, though, because of its romance. As a prisoner of King Tiras, Lark has more freedom than she had when she lived with her father and, what's more, Tiras personally teaches her how to read, giving her the words that her mother's curse stole from her. He helps her to harness her power and though he uses that power--she is his prisoner, after all--it's at the cost of slowly giving up his secrets and trusting her. Their relationship is a slow-burn, inching from enemies to tentative allies to friends and finally to something more but witnessing it all from Lark's perspective, from inside of her head as she falls in love with this king of contradictions, is beautiful. I'm in love with their love story and I know this is one I will read and re-read. It's all about navigating messy feelings and power imbalances until they've found and secured an equilibrium and I love seeing that progression.
The story, as I said, isn't perfect since the ending is a little neat, pieces fitting together at a rapid pace, but I loved this novel immensely. I cannot recommend it enough, particularly for fans of Kristin Cashore's Fire as this story reminded me of my favorite on more than one occasion. My only problem now is to decide whether to re-read this--and stay stuck in my book hangover forever--or move on to Harmon's other words and, possibly, be stuck in book hangover anyway.