In an attempt to repel an unwanted suitor, Lady Lysbeth Haywood shares her unfashionable enthusiasm for the "Faye"—a supposedly-mythical race few believe exist. Instead, her suitor is driven to capture one as a gift.
When the Faye, Evyn, is delivered to Lindenholt Manor, Lysbeth's dread at the prospect of a forced engagement yields to the thrilling actualization of childhood Fayetales—and the chance to satisfy her long-suffered curiosity. Unfortunately, Avonleigh society is less receptive to the strange arrival.
Maligned, mistreated, and forced into servitude, Evyn's traumatized silence spurs Lysbeth to his aid. Trust and affection emerge slowly, and as extraordinary Faye mysteries are peeled away, their revelations—and Lysbeth's own role in them—reach farther than she ever thought possible.
Intoxicated with music, fairy language, and Regency-era romantic convention, Roske’s debut is a novel for readers with those interests to get lost in. Here the epistolary courtship drama of Austen-inspired romances meets the full-bodied magic and worldbuilding of Susanna Clarke; Roske proves adept at weaving the uncanny into society, and exhibits a keen sense of the allurements of fae. Introduced wearing “an elegant filigree of resplendent silver—which leaves little to the imagination” and soon revealed as a master of the pianoforte, the Fae at first known as Evyn introduces Lysbeth to new (and ancient) ways of thinking and feeling—as Lysbeth instructs in the finer points of dancing and Avon society.
Their attraction is irresistible, and Roske’s inventiveness—magic, revels, politics, adversaries with viciously clever designs, occasional beasts and bursts of action—keeps the novel engaging despite its length. Readers fascinated by the possibilities of love between wildly different cultures will relish th Lysbeth and her Fae companion discovering each other and each other’s worlds.
Takeaway: A sumptuous romance of ladies, fae, society, and two inventively realized worlds.
Great for fans of: Susanna Clarke, Nissa Leder.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A
I approached 'Strung' warily, being somewhat suspicious of hybrids of fantasy, science fiction and good old fashioned romantic prosing. I very soon found myself, however, basking in a warm bath of truly elegant writing and where, as a writer of reviews, I no longer felt myself obliged to seek out and hunt down such things as plot lines or set about laboured critiques of character development. I was, instead, more content to allow the complexities of the story and its multiple personalities and themes to gently bear me along, content at times, to let the language wash over me. The occasional illustrations of certain characters of the book embedded within the text are faintly reminiscent of the spirit of Mervyn Peake's representations of his own often nightmarish creations in 'Gormenghast' and, indeed, the ancestral home and the setting of this odd book seems to be packed to the rafters with a veritable army of servants, each with their own rather peculiar and often obscure functions straight out of Mervyn Peake's fantastical imaginations.
In a strange parallel fantasy Universe that at first glance more than passingly resembles the English 'Home Counties' of Regency England and where the language spoken is 'Vonish', an elegant and highly desirable Aristocrat and heiress, Lady Lysbeth Haywood of Edenshire, is being rigorously pursued by the Earl of Dorsit, a man clearly of inferior breeding, in her ancestral home of Lindenholt. As a potential wedding gift, the Earl brings her the gift of a prized captive, a fabulous mythic creature, a 'Faye', a creature of myth and legend whose like has been sought for centuries. And so this always bizarre tale begins. There are passages of quite breathtaking elegance and acute deadpan observations worthy of the sly humour of Jane Austen herself. Here is the beautiful Lady Lysbeth, and a reflection on the subject of women and womanhood:
''From the day of her birth, the focus of a Lady's life is to marry well and bear heirs for her husband. To increase her odds, she learns to speak, dress and gesture favourably, is taught arts pleasing to a wide array of suitors, is educated just enough to keep her husband's house, and is kept a virgin through keen eyes, looming threats of social ruin, and the ever-present, noxious cloud of shame generated by the supposed inferiority of her gender.'' As a representative of the weaker sex, she can, however, fall back on a few tricks of her own. ''It is not often a man encourages a woman's curiosity, let alone a girl's, and she returns the kindness by ignoring his patronising.''
Even descriptions of the grand and stately architecture of the ancestral family Mansion receive the same elegant treatment: ''Lindenholt's richly adorned parlor gazes upon its occupants with regal detachment.
''Strung'' is a great deal more than the sum of its parts. It is, of course, a quite lengthy 'fairy story'. It is also a well, meticulously developed, sustained and maintained work of fantasy and of romance. It is a tale of Lysbeth's own fascination with this gentle, shy and eerie creature from an 'unworldly' place, of her desire to nurture him and his set of extraordinary gifts and talents and to protect him against a prejudiced and very hostile society. In taking up arms on 'the Faye's behalf, she is setting herself against Society as a whole and, in the process and as the plot unfurls, she is to learn far more about herself than she had ever known or thought possible. ''Strung'' is a compelling account of a forbidden love and an at times almost overwhelming sense of impending doom as events unfold and the cast of richly portrayed characters reveal even more of themselves with well paced cameos, descriptions and dialogues. ''Strung'', though about two alien fantasy cultures set on a direct collision course, is also a romance where the principal characters blossom and evolve and, in doing so, reveal separate fine qualities such as loyalty, 'humanity', compassion and wit. Weaknesses and foibles are similarly revealed. There are whole areas of this book, skilfully divided into musically themed sections, that are sublime and the narrative simply flows! Here is how the writer handles the delicate art of dealing [or failing to] with grief and social embarrassment within the confines of a highly refined and genteel Salon. To set the scene: 'the Faye', is delivered back to Lindenholt after a six month period of investigation and 're-education' at the brutal hands of the Warden Ian Wescott [the 'Baron'] at the instigation of Lysbeth's equally brutal and boorish brother, Isaac, the current Marquess, after a supposed slight to the Earl of Dorsit. Lysbeth is horrified by his greatly changed appearance and demeanour upon his return:
''The Ladies' masks falter again. His behaviour is extremely unfamiliar. In Avonleigh, one endeavours to conceal inconvenient emotions, but here are Evyn's on full display - and so easily interpreted, the women are forced to recognise them: anxiety, anguish, abasement. Unsure how to navigate the situation, they join in his silence for what feels like an interminable length of time........''
A determined reviewer worth his or her salt would be able to pluck from the text any number of beautifully described quotes such as this. The equally determined reader is cautioned to read with due care and attention; for some passages may seem easy and straightforward, but their actual complexity commands respect. After the Faye speaks for the first time [it transpires that he is fluent in fourteen languages] an initial medical report describes his voice and manner of articulation thus:
''Within his vocalisations rise and fall up to three separate, simultaneous pitches, three distinct voices. Articulations stay forward in his mouth as dressings over smooth, unbroken tones from his throat. It was just as described: each utterance a note, and by the inclusion of another pitch or two, more often a chord." A closer and second reading of this passage reveals that the Faye's voice must have been extraordinary - and beautiful.
The book, as it progresses grows more lyrical, and more complex. On reaching the conclusion, the reader may wish to set it aside for a while before commencing upon it once more, secure in the knowledge that within its pages there is a wealth of new and wonderful things still to discover and ponder and that were missed the first time around. Having come to terms with the static and somewhat claustrophobic confines and backdrop of the settings and a slightly slow speed of development, the reader is strongly recommended to carry on to the end of this extraordinary work. This reviewer approached the book with a certain innate prejudice and finished it with satisfaction and a nod of thanks to the author for such an entertaining and provoking read.
☆☆☆☆☆ “Strung” by Roske receives five stars from The Historical Fiction Company and the “Highly Recommended” award.
The Literary Titan Book Awards are awarded to books that have astounded and amazed us with unique writing styles, vivid worlds, complex characters, and original ideas. These books deserve extraordinary praise and we are proud to acknowledge the hard work, dedication, and writing talent of these brilliant authors.
"Our Silver Award goes to ROSKE for the exquisitely original Historical Fantasy novel, STRUNG. Congrats to Roske!"