There’s one word I would use to describe Song at Dawn: impressive. The writing is exquisite, with passages wandering into something more poetic than mere prose. There were times I lost track of the story because I was busy marvelling at the art on display. It was lovely. And there’s depth; the characters are real. I could picture Lady Estela and the dashing knight Dragonetz, both hopelessly in love, yet because of politics, forced to keep their relationship a secret. I especially liked the Moor, al-Hisba. I know this might not be the best comparison, but he reminded me of Gandalf, this mysterious wise man, and even though his identity is shrouded in secrecy, you know his intentions are honourable.
And then there’s the backdrop. Jean Gill does such a thorough job of bringing 12th century France to life. I learned a lot reading this book. Little things like belladonna; I didn’t know people did that to their eyes. Or the paper mill. It never occurred to me that something as innocuous as paper would have been looked at not only as something revolutionary but as a threat. And then weaving that into a story; it’s genius.
One final thought: it occurred to me while reading this novel that as much as things change, some things remain the same. The backdrop of the crusades, with its clash between civilizations, is eerily similar to what is happening now. Some of the place names that pop up in the story, like Aleppo, Damascus and Jerusalem, are in the news today. For me, it makes Song at Dawn, a story set almost 1,000 years ago, that much more compelling. And timely. I can’t recommend this book enough.