The Bird and the Sword by Amy Harmon (2016)
The Bird and the Sword is not exactly a fairy tale retelling, but it is a beautifully written fantasy that has a fairy tale feel. It shares themes with Beauty and the Beast, and there are references to people spinning straw into gold, so for me it felt firmly rooted in the fairy tale tradition, whilst being an original story.
We follow Lady Lark’s story through her own narration, a narration that is made poignant by the fact that she herself is mute, having never spoken since the day she witnessed her mother’s violent death.
Lark is beset by difficulties from earliest childhood. Not only is she motherless, but her father treats her with disdain and keeps her almost a prisoner. Her one ally is a faithful troll who watches over her, and understands her wordless communication.
As a young woman Lark is taken hostage by the king, and used as a pawn against her father to pressure him into providing support for a battle against a vicious and fantastical enemy. Thus begins what I think of as the Beauty and the Beast theme: Lark being held against her will in the castle of a king. But this young, handsome man is not always human – he is cursed, and Lark, with her strange and secret gifting, may be the only one who can save him.
The story is deeply romantic; there are some ardent kissing scenes, but I would still describe it as a clean romance. There is sufficient resistance and initial resentment on Lark’s part to prevent the romance from being uncomfortable – the idea of falling in love with your captor is problematic – but as with Beauty and the Beast, Lark learns to love the man beneath the rough exterior and the curse, while he also learns to love her and respect her.
The story moves at a good pace, and the unfolding romance is passionate and believable. There is action a-plenty, high emotion, a strong hero and heroine, all set within a kingdom populated with fairy tale creatures as well as humans with unusual gifts. It contains all the ingredients I love in a story, and it all works together to make a gripping and moving tale. There’s also a sequel, which I can’t wait to read.