The Bird And The Sword by Amy Harmon
Title & Author: The Bird And The Sword by Amy Harmon
Release Date: May 11, 2016
Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Series Details: Duology…At the very least companion novel
Page Count: 352 Pages
Description: “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 heaven or hell. You will learn and you will thrive. Silence, daughter. Stay alive.
The day my mother was killed, she told my father I wouldn’t speak again, and she told him if I died, he would die too. Then she predicted the king would sell his soul and lose his son to the sky. My father has a claim to the throne, and he is waiting in the shadows for all of my mother’s words to come to pass. He wants desperately to be king, and I just want to be free. But freedom will require escape, and I’m a prisoner of my mother’s curse and my father’s greed. I can’t speak or make a sound, and I can’t wield a sword or beguile a king. In a land purged of enchantment, love might be the only magic left, and who could ever love . . . a bird?”
“Words are our most inexhaustible source of magic.”
Quoting a fictional Headmaster and Professor (D.A. for life) might seem out of place, but I found these words aptly summarized my feelings toward Harmon’s first foray into fantasy fiction. There’s no purer form of magic, for a reader, than witnessing an author’s ability to captivate and connect people via the written word. With its powerful message and poetic prose, The Bird and The Sword is no exception to this literary phenomenon.
Inspired by a passage in the Bible (John 1:1), this novel, unlike any I’ve read before, openly discusses the power of words. Early on we are told “the world is alive with words” and those words are a gift from the gods above. Those words are magic. Those words have the power to change the world. Not only are these sentiments proven to be true within the mystical world of Jeru, but they also hit home as a reader, a writer, and a participant in today’s frenzied political climate.
As active readers (which I assume you are if you’re reading this), we already know the magic that surrounds our community. We appreciate and accept that stories and words are capable of bringing together strangers of all ages, genders, creeds, and races. Whether these tales inspire admiration, ire, ships, or figurative deaths (i.e. I die/I’m dead), we bond over our mutual opinions, grow from those that challenge our own, and refer back to these lessons in our daily lives.
As writers, we believe what Harmon stated: “With words, I create worlds.” And while world building is completely common in the fantasy genre, the eerie element of Harmon’s Jeru is watching how a clearly make-believe realm complete with its own pronunciation guide and intricate theological system slowly starts to remind us of home. The supernatural elements start to fade away and the lines start to blur when you realize the threats the characters are facing more clearly resemble those found within our own world. This was supposed to be fiction right?
Now obviously these relatable threats are masked in metaphor. We aren’t, as a nation, plagued by giant vulture-esque birdmen that attack our villages, nor are we divided into gifted (those with magical powers) versus non-gifted subgroups. However, a central theme in this novel is how to “handle” or embrace differences within contrasting groups, which certainly strikes a relevant chord in today’s society. Do we accept those that are different from us? Fear them? Eradicate them?
In the novel, the monarchy takes this debate to the extreme. Channeling Niemöller’s “First They Came For” lecture, Harmon reveals the fates of the gifted in Jeru:
“But the voices of fear and discontent are always loudest, and one by one, the Tellers, the Healers, the Changers and the Spinners were destroyed.”
While I’d hope this abhorrent outcome would stick to fictional lands, it is apparent how easily this result could, as it has in the past, come to fruition in the real world.
Harmon eloquently points out that: “Fear makes weaklings of us all,” and “the weak allowed evil to flourish.” To me, it’s impossible to read this story and not equate certain scenarios to the headlines and news segments we observe daily. You shake your head and wonder how it happened, but you also wonder if you would have somehow changed the outcome. Would you use your voice? Even if it was dangerous? Even if it put you in the line of fire?
This message serves a strong warning to readers, but is also accompanied by an easy solution: acceptance. By accepting themselves, embracing their differences, and overcoming their fears by trusting others the characters are able to spark change and create new societal norms.
Now despite my overarching takeaway, this novel is by no means heavy. Filled with poetic passages, a love story, and a young girl’s quest to find her voice this beautiful novel is worth the few hours it would take to read.