I’ve read a great many augmented literary classics, but this was my first adventure in augmented history. And I must say, the adventure was truly enjoyable! The Book of Whispers is a delicious blend of history, mythology, adventure and imagination.
Title: The Book of Whispers
Author: Kimberley Starr
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Publication Date: October 3, 2016; US/ Canada Release Date: September 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction, Augmented History, YA Fiction, Literary Fiction, YA Romance
Themes: Adventure, Crusades, Demons, Friendship, Romance
My Rating: 4/ 5
Tuscany, 1096 AD. Luca, young heir to the title of Conte de Falconi, sees demons. Since no one else can see them, Luca must keep quiet about what he sees.
Luca also has dreams—dreams that sometimes predict the future. Luca sees his father murdered in one such dream and vows to stop it coming true. Even if he has to go against his father’s wishes and follow him on the great pilgrimage to capture the Holy Lands.
When Luca is given an ancient book that holds some inscrutable power, he knows he’s been thrown into an adventure that will lead to places beyond his understanding. But with the help of Suzan, the beautiful girl he rescues from the desert, he will realise his true quest: to defeat the forces of man and demon that wish to destroy the world.
First things first, can we please get a huge Hells Yes! for a YA book that deals with sexual consent without overtly stating that it is a lesson in consent? Narlo is a shady enough character that it’s pretty easy to pick up on that fact that his actions are wrong in an obvious sort of way, but just because someone gave you permission once before doesn’t entitle a person to continual access. It was great to see a character too, that stood up against such actions even when the dominant group discourse was to engage in such behaviours and deem it as acceptable. I think those moments where Luca defended informed consent (for his sister, his own betrothed, and Bianca) absolutely made this book for me.
Now, into the nitty-gritty. I really enjoyed this book, especially the seamless interweaving of religion, mythology, and documented history. I particularly loved those elements of Greek mythology such as the Graeae, the Arthurian element of the fail-not bow of Tristan, and the Egyptian usage of mirrors to reflect and part the veil between the worlds. I felt like I was immersed in a cross-over episode where a Medieval English Romance meets up with Wrath of the Titans and Constantine. The smorgasbord of beliefs and how they interacted with one another was wonderful to see in a work of historical fiction, as too often this time period assumes unwavering belief and wholesale conversion. Through omitting the names and origins of such objects Starr encourages not only the independent exploration of the origins of such objects, but also empathy and awareness of varied beliefs and a better understanding of how current representations have evolved over time.
Another element that I found particularly noteworthy, especially in a YA book, was that all actions had consequences! Even with the aid of magical objects, there was no such thing as an easy fix or a free ride. But, much like how the scenes depicting a violation of consent are depicted, these moments inspire introspection, self evaluation, and a critical view of the actions of each character.
The split narration between Luca and Suzan worked really, especially since their stories came together relatively quickly. The alternation between the two points of view, and the relatively short chapters, kept the pace quick and helped to create tension and drama even in the simplest of moments. Although, I must say that the romance between Luca and Suzan was the main reason why this book stayed at a 4 star instead of a 5, as I found that element of the book could have used a little spicing up.
Regardless, I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, fantasy, or the blending of both. The writing is captivating, the characters engaging and believable, and the imagination that The Book of Whispers inspires in wonderful. And, at a time where dominant ideologies are being aggressively pushed in public forum, this book is as timely as it is entertaining.
Up Next: Patchwork by Karsten Knight