Amy Harmon is a New York Times bestselling author who often takes the nontraditional route of self-publication – and she’s highly successful with it. I’ve been seeing The Bird and the Sword flash on my GoodReads feed on a daily basis – read, reviewed, or added to a to-read list by many fellow readers – and this warranted further inspection. The description was too delicious to refuse. I purchased the book thinking it was a single novel, not realizing that this is the first in a new series. And after reading, I’m not too upset about this. I could definitely read more. (The first book is standalone – no cliffhanger.) CreateSpace | May, 2016 | Paperback | 352pp
Swallow, Daughter, pull them in, those words that sit upon your lips.
Lock them deep inside your soul, hide them ‘til they’ve time to grow.
Close your mouth upon the power, curse not, cure not, ‘til the hour.
You won’t speak and you won’t tell, you won’t call on heav’n or hell.
You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, Daughter. Stay alive.
Lark was born with a gift, as her mother before her, in a world where the Gifted are outlawed, hunted, and executed. Lark is a Teller and her words can bring life to inanimate objects or cause animals to obey her will. Her words have power. But when her mother is about to be executed in front of Lark for being Gifted, her mother places a curse on the King, his son, and on Lark. She takes away Lark’s voice just before dying in a last-ditch effort to protect her. According to the curse, the king will trade his soul, the king’s son will be lost to the sky, and if Lark dies, so will her father – the man next in line for the throne.
Fast-forward to present and Lark is in her early twenties. Her father, nobleman and ruler of Degn, is still patiently waiting to ascend to power as King of Jeru. The former king who killed his wife is dead, but the prince, now king, still lives. Her father keeps her on a tight leash because of the curse – if she dies, he dies. He doesn’t care much about Lark, only his own neck and his plans to take the throne.
The land of Jeru is under attack by strange birdmen along the borders, creatures never seen before. When the new king visits the House of Degn and demands an explanation as to why men have not been sent to assist in fortifying Jeru and battle the birdmen, he takes Lark prisoner to ensure compliance. King Tiras keeps her under heavy guard at the Jeru palace but treats her well. He even takes it upon himself to teach her how to read and write, something her own father forbid. By giving Lark the power of words, she learns how to wield them even as a mute.
When Tiras’ father reigned, laws were enacted to flush out and destroy the Gifted. The Gifted were feared by the nobles. It was feared that they would rise up and destroy society. There are four types of Gifted: Tellers like Lark, Spinners who can change one material into another, Changers who can morph into the shape of other creatures, and Healers who can heal.
Under Tiras’ rule, the Gifted had not been hunted and the other nobles of the land thought him to be too lax. They felt that the new birdmen invasion was a direct result of the Gifted being allowed to flourish. But Tiras has no plans to continue his father’s legacy. With Lark by his side, he’s able to battle the birdmen wielding her gift as a sword. But there are many who now look to usurp Tiras. Like Lark, Tiras has his own secrets and together, they try to protect a kingdom, protect each other, fight usurpers, and discover the dark force behind the birdmen attack. Little do they know, Lark’s mother’s curse isn’t over yet.
There’s only one critique for me: the rhyming. While it imbues a sort of lyrical magic, it’s also a bit silly. For example:
All the ills, the dirt and grime
Flee this wound and quicken time.
Gaping flesh and broken skin
Mend together, whole again.
Smooth rock, beneath my palm
Move so I can climb this wall.
It’s not the rhymes themselves but the necessity. Anytime Lark needs to call upon her powers and use her words, she makes a rhyming couplet, and sometimes she has to do it on the spur of the moment such as in battle. If I had this ability and needed to rhyme in order to fight properly on a moment’s notice, I would most certainly be dead. Yet, Lark – even though she only just learned how to spell (which apparently was important and necessary), can throw down a beat instinctively. It’s nearly comical.
Aside from that little business of nitpicking, I simply loved the world. The story of a strange young woman who wishes for freedom but is kept under lock and key and even pampered, coming head-to-head with the ruler, reminds me of Uprooted by Naomi Novik. Those who love Uprooted will truly enjoy The Bird and the Sword. The world building is spectacular and the political dynamics are familiar – rulers who fear those who are different. I loved the character of Lark because, although handicapped, she is strong and willful. The relationship between Lark and Tiras is strained, but who can expect a fairy-tale romance during a political maelstrom and war?
I must admit – the cover was a big draw for me as well. It is one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen. I felt compelled to own it. While we all know not to judge a book by its cover, most of us can agree that fabulous cover art is a hypnotic drug to bibliophiles.
The Bird and the Sword is a sweeping ride through fantasy. Go ahead and get caught up in it.