Review: The Silent Songbird

The Silent Songbird is the second book I've read by Christian fiction author Melanie Dickerson. This one appealed to me because it was inspired by my favorite fairy tale, "The Little Mermaid." Considering that this fairy tale already has some heavy Christian themes such as the mermaid wanting to gain an immortal soul through holy matrimony and the prince being found in a temple when he washed ashore, I thought this book would have some heavier religious undertones than it did. It was a pretty loose retelling that was far more realistic than the original story, much like the first book I read by this author. The Silent Songbird has nothing to do with mermaids or even the sea and instead tries to capture the rebellious spirit of the little mermaid while engrossing its readers in a believable historical setting.

Evangeline has royal blood flowing through her veins despite her illegitimate birth. Because of this, her cousin, the king, is not quite sure what to do with her. She must be treated like the royalty she was born into, but the circumstances of her birth prevent her from becoming the heir to any throne. She spends most of her days in a tower singing to the birds in her beautiful and renowned voice, occasionally being waited upon by friendly servants. One day, the king is propositioned by a lord for Eva's hand in marriage and believes this is the perfect opportunity for her to live out the noble life she deserves. The only problem is that Eva can't stand Lord Shively, especially after hearing rumors of his violent temper and the mysterious circumstances of his first wife's death. When the king refuses to listen to reason, Eva decides to run away. She is followed by her companion, Muriel, who helps disguise Eva's beautiful voice by telling people she is mute, securing them both jobs as servants in a nearby castle.

Most of the similarities to "The Little Mermaid" end here. Eva attempts to do work for the family of a kind-hearted nobleman named Westley, who shows great concern over her struggles to perform the labors of a servant. He and his loving parents tend to the blisters that appear on her soft hands, the hands of someone who has never done a day of work in her life, as they begin to suspect she may not be who she says she is. The more she gets to know Westley, the more Eva regrets lying to him, especially after it spurs the jealousy of Sabina, another maiden living in his family's castle. Eva's situation becomes even more complicated when she witnesses someone attempting to murder Westley and rescues him from drowning in the moat (the only other reference to "The Little Mermaid.") When she finally reveals the truth, no one knows if they should believe her after she had been lying to them for so long about being mute.

Though this is a very different story from Court of Swans, I can see why some people think Melanie Dickerson's books are too similar as both follow the same basic formula. From what I can gather, Melanie uses a well-known fairy tale to dictate all the major plot points, places everything in a realistic historical setting, and factors in a love triangle with one wicked love interest and one good one. Eva's attempt to save Westley's life in addition to escaping Lord Shively gave the climax of this book a little more of an impact while simultaneously separating it entirely from the story of "The Little Mermaid." In fact, I thought it bore more similarities to the recent Hulu film The Princess right down to its strong-willed redheaded protagonist. Even though the story was so different from the fairy tale that inspired it, the book is somewhat forgettable because the plot of a royal maiden trying to escape an arranged marriage is rather overdone.

The Silent Songbird is a pleasant read for fans of history and fairy tales. I like how the author managed to incorporate the story of "The Little Mermaid" in such a unique way that felt like it could have really happened once upon a time. Still, I've seen everything that happened in this book in other stories, though not necessarily ones about mermaids. It's a sweet tale for anyone who is looking to pass some time without getting too worked up by emotions. I now have a good feel for what the rest of this author's books are like and can understand how she's written so many of them since they all follow the same basic formula. This book is recommended to anyone who enjoys stories about empowered women seeking love during a time period when most marriages were forced upon them.


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