Wednesday, January 11, 2017

'The Silent Songbird' by Melanie Dickerson

29492072Evangeline longs to be free, to live in the world outside the castle walls. But freedom comes at a cost.

Evangeline is the ward and cousin of King Richard II, and yet she dreams of a life outside of Berkhamsted Castle, where she might be free to marry for love and not politics. But the young king betroths her to his closest advisor, Lord Shiveley, a man twice as old as Evangeline. Desperate to escape a life married to a man she finds revolting, Evangeline runs away from the king and joins a small band of servants on their way back to their home village.

To keep her identity a secret, Evangeline pretends to be mute. Evangeline soon regrets the charade as she gets to know Westley, the handsome young leader of the servants, whom she later discovers is the son of a wealthy lord. But she cannot reveal her true identity for fear she will be forced to return to King Richard and her arranged marriage.

Westley le Wyse is intrigued by the beautiful new servant girl. When he learns that she lost her voice from a beating by a cruel former master, he is outraged. But his anger is soon redirected when he learns she has been lying to him. Not only is she not mute, but she isn't even a servant.

Weighed down by remorse for deceiving Westley, Evangeline fears no one will ever love her. But her future is not the only thing at stake, as she finds herself embroiled in a tangled web that threatens England's monarchy. Should she give herself up to save the only person who cares about her? If she does, who will save the king from a plot to steal his throne?

The story begins at Berkhamsted Castle in the year 1384. Evangeline is the ward of the young King Richard, and he's just arranged for her to marry a close adviser of his, the middle-aged and odious Lord Shiveley. Although her companion Muriel advises her to make the best of it, Evangeline decides to make a run for it instead. Posing as a peasant and seeking hard manual labour seems a far better fate, and on the spur of the moment, Muriel decides to go along for the ride. As part of her disguise, Evangeline pretends to have lost her voice.

Lord Westley leWyse is the young nobleman whose family they end up working for. Although he ponders the identity of a girl with a beautiful singing voice he once caught sight of at the castle, he also finds himself intrigued by the mysterious, mute 'Eva'. Little does he know they are one and the same person.

Melanie Dickerson writes fairy tale adaptations, and this one is based on The Little Mermaid. Evangeline has Ariel's bright red hair, and I guess her uncommon tallness somehow stands in for a tail. Luckily for Dickerson's readers who love happy endings, she follows the Disney adaptation rather than Hans Christian Andersen's original, in which the little mermaid's fate was far bleaker :)

This tale reminds me of the Barbie princess movies my daughter used to own, since Evangeline and Westley have a real Barbie and Ken quality. He's handsome and just while she's kind and sweet (and tall and willowy to boot). The setting is all pastoral and lovely. She messes up every chore she attempts to undertake since she's never been taught how to do these things, but she isn't dismissed from service because she's so cute and willing. And when she really puts her mind to learning something, she's brilliant.

I found suspension of disbelief is called for a bit too often. Evangeline's ruse of being unable to speak didn't seem strictly necessary from the start. There was no real reason why she couldn't have posed as a peasant if she could talk. She didn't have to sing, after all. And Muriel carried it off OK. All Evangeline seemed to achieve was to make it annoying for herself to remember to keep up the pointless pretense. It was necessary for one reason alone, which was to jam this story into the Little Mermaid mould, and I think it showed.

And however much of a heartthrob Westley is reported to be, he comes across a bit slow on the uptake. The king's guards are searching specifically for a tall redhead, Eva turns pale and stoops on the spot, yet he still chooses to believe the lie he was told about her origins. Still, I guess he's no thicker than the guards who glance at her, shrug their shoulders when they fail to catch her eye and walk straight past. This story doesn't speak much for the common sense of men in the 1300's.

Since I'm getting to parts where plot spoilers might be an issue, I'll stop. Overall, if you're looking for a feel-good, romantic, historical HEA, this fits the bill, although I've got to warn you I did a fair bit of eye rolling.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for my review copy.

2.5 stars


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