The Bird and the Sword, by Amy Harmon
352 pages, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016
“I didn’t want to be taken care of. I wanted to run away from all the men who sought domininion over me, who thought they could own me, imprison me, use me, cut me.”
As a fantasy-lover and simultaneous feminist, it’s sometimes hard for me to enjoy what would otherwise be a fun book/movie/etc because I can’t (and don’t want to) ignore what I recognize as problematic and persistent elements/tropes/themes. Until we start lending some nuance to the relationships we depict in our media, we won’t stop internalizing expectations and behaviors that are deeply harmful to ourselves. I mean this especially in regards to romance, and that same dynamic that’s produced and consumed over and over again.
I just finished The Bird and the Sword, which has a great story and mythology, a wonderful heroine, and an irresistible hero. Harmon took the romance, made it seem familiar, and then peeled back a layer to show us something else. It sort of made me feel like I was being held accountable for things I expected and wanted to happen, things I found deeply romantic and stimulating, while showing me the dark potential.
The Bird and the Stone is a beautiful fairytale. An ensorcelled girl saves a shape-shifter and becomes his bride, finds her power and a true love beating in the breast of a domineering and powerful king. What’s not to like? Sounds like my cup of tall, dark and handsome tea. Except Harmon doesn’t let us off easy. She shows us what it would be like to be in love with a man who thinks the way Tiras does 3/4 of the book, who demands and corners, seduces and takes, while also showing us the frustration and despair of coming to love a man like that, when you know (when he admits!) that he needs you for his reasons, sees what you can do for him instead of who you are. Lark loves Tiras but never stops demanding that he accept her for herself, that he not push her or continue to use her. Harmon explores the enforced silence, invisibility, and peripherality of women through Lark’s muteness. One of the best lines in 300+ pages of beautiful writing comes when Tiras finally admits that he loves Lark, and sees with clarity how he’s treated her:
“I am more like my father than I thought. He wronged you, and I have wronged you. I have taken you from your home. I have used your gifts. I have taken your will and spent myself in your body. I have given you worry and fear and responsibility. I have taken. Endlessly. And you have given endlessly. I only wanted to save my country. I told my self, ‘I’m doing it for Jeru.’ That’s what my father always said when he did something terrible.”
I found something deeply romantic about Tiras and Lark’s story, even before he admitted to feeling things for her beyond lust and need for her power. I got my familiar romance fix, those stomach-clenching, breathless scenes where Tiras is saying things like “I will put a baby in your belly,” which sounds horrible and weird out of context because it is horrible and weird! Lark doesn’t let him get away with it, and Harmon doesn’t let us get away with not seeing how that attitude has to change before they can truly be happy. I got the heart-pounding seduction I wanted with some serious character growth and an exciting story to boot.
If you love your guilty pleasures but rejoice when an author makes you look long and hard at why, I think you’ll like this book. Or, you know, if you like romantic fantasy, I think you’ll like this book. Ditto if you’re into fairytales, and shape-shifting, and eternal love and all that jazz. 🙂 4/5 stars!