In an effort to distract myself from the anxiety-inducing news cycle, I’ve decided to catch up on my book reviews instead. I’m starting with Blackbirds Sing, by Aiki Flinthart, because it’s a 5-star read that’s immersive, fascinating and ultimately hopeful.
Blackbirds Sing is the story of the attempted assassination of King Henry VII of England. Set in 1486, it’s inspired by true events and imagines that the assassination plot is foiled by a network of ordinary woman doing extraordinary things, led by one slightly magical sidhe.
This book is for you if you love historical fiction from this period that’s conversational and really gets into the day-to-day details – and very well researched details they are, too!
I absolutely adored this novel. It’s technically a cycle of short stories, each one told from the point of view of a different woman. The narrative is moved along by handing the storytelling from one woman to the next, sort of like a baton race, piecing together the puzzle bit by bit. Once you’ve left a character’s point of view, you never get to go back again. You do, however, see previous ‘main’ characters pop up again from others’ points of view.
This, in itself, is really quite fascinating. Sometimes a woman won’t reveal something about herself to the reader because it’s just so ingrained in her life that it doesn’t occur to her to mention it. To an observer, however, that trait might be the absolute most important thing about the person.
Each story is a fabulous snippet of the hidden lives of ordinary women in these times. A nun, a lady in waiting, a prostitute, a tavern wench, a street musician, a bee keeper and more. I loved the stories of their lives every bit as much as I enjoyed the central narrative.
Aiki Flinthart is that author where, once you’ve read one of her books, you’ll want to go and read them all. Her writing is very readable but divinely descriptive:
“Far in the distance, huddled up against the Thames, London’s misery of buildings squatted beneath a miasma of smoke and hid behind the old Roman wall.”
Or this one:
“Dusty gold beams of light played through the leaves and blackbirds warbled and sand in the undergrowth. Sounded like dozens of them, all callin’and singin’ like their little hearts would break with the joy of livin’.”
I loved the diversity and small jabs at the attitude to women in the fifteenth century. Of course, disabled and abused women have existed throughout history. They don’t usually make it into the history books. This is where historical fiction can try to fill in the gaps. I loved this particular retort to a man who described a group of women as ‘a handful’:
“That’s because you’re a man and you think in terms of controlling women. They’re not horses or dogs. They want only respect and to be heard.”
Thanks to writers like Aiki Flinthart, these silent women of history can finally be heard.