Narrated by Rosalyn Landor
Silent Melody is the sequel to Heartless, which was one of my favourite audiobooks of 2015. In that story, Lucas Kendrick, Duke of Harndon, gradually reconnects with the family he had fled from a decade earlier, and I particularly enjoyed listening to the way the author has Luke repairing his fractured relationship with his wayward younger brother, Lord Ashley. Towards the end of Heartless, Ashley leaves England to take up a position with the East India Company, eager to make something of himself and of his life. Even though he leaves behind him a family he loves and who loves him dearly, he is in good spirits and ready to take on the new challenges he is sure to face.
As well as leaving Luke, his wife and their infant daughter, Ashley also has to say goodbye to Lady Emily Marlowe, who, at fifteen, has been his constant companion during the year he has been living at the ducal seat. Emily is the sister of Luke’s wife, Anna, and she is unable to hear or speak as the result of a severe childhood illness. Yet Ashley and Emily have forged a special bond; she cannot read or write which naturally means communication is difficult, but the pair have begun to develop a system of signing, and also have a kind of sixth sense where the other is concerned, always knowing when they are near and often able to understand each other without the need for words.
Ashley remains in India for seven years, during which time he marries and has a son, and Emily also moves on with her life. She longs for a home and children of her own, and is on the point of becoming engaged to a kind, eligible young man when Ashley returns home unexpectedly, alone, haggard and clearly weighed down by many things, not least of which are the tragic deaths of his wife and son a year earlier. Emily is thrown off balance somewhat, as is Ashley, who almost doesn’t recognise the beautiful, poised young woman who has replaced the unconventional, passionate child-of-nature he left behind.
Emily doesn’t know whether to be glad to see him or angry with him for reminding her of the love she knew was – and is – that of a woman for a man and not simply a childish infatuation. Their connection is as strong as it ever was, yet their old comfortable relationship is gone, and neither quite knows how to interact with the other. When a moment of comfort turns physical, it seems there is only one option – but one of the things that defines Emily’s character is her refusal to let circumstance or her disabilities define or restrain her. She’s determined to live her life in her own way, refusing Ashley’s offer of marriage after he compromises her because she knows he still sees her as the girl he left behind.
That the main obstacle in the path of the romance is a misunderstanding – Emily believes Ashley to be still in love with his dead wife and he believes he isn’t good enough for her – is something I normally find frustrating; but there is enough to enjoy in terms of the characters, their relationships and in the way that Emily and Ashley gradually reclaim their previous closeness that mean the Big Mis isn’t overwhelming. The last third or so of the book contains a strong element of mystery as Ashley realises that if he’s to come to terms with what happened to his family in India, he must find answers closer to home.
I enjoyed the audiobook very much, although things do take a while to get going. I don’t normally find slow-moving stories to be a problem; in fact, I usually like it when an author takes time to set up the characters and the background to the story – but I can’t deny that I would have liked things to have moved a little faster in the early stages of this book. I suspect that may be because there is a lot of description and introspection and not a huge amount of dialogue at this point; and though Rosalyn Landor does a splendid job with the narrative, giving it just the right amount of expression and emotion and differentiating perfectly between narrative, speech and thought, the amount of introspection does slow things down rather too much. In fact, the degree of internalisation and reflection borders dangerously on navel-gazing at times, and is the main fault I found with the book as a whole; it can be overly wordy.
The real strengths of the story lie in the central relationships; not just the romance, which is very well written, but those between Luke and Ashley and – possibly my favourite – between Luke and Emily. Unlike Anna, who still regards Emily as a child and tries to cosset and protect her, Luke treats her like an adult and knows that sometimes she needs to be made to do difficult things – even though they’re hard on her – like when he teaches her to read and write. This is one of the things that made him such a great hero in the earlier book – his air of command is tempered by compassion and understanding and he instinctively knows when to push and when to back away. There’s a sweet secondary romance between two older characters, Lord Quinn and Lady Sterne, an engaging set of minor characters, and while the identity of the villain of the piece is obvious, it all makes for an entertaining and occasionally tense listen.
I really can’t find anything to fault in Rosalyn Landor’s performance, which is flawless. Her portrayals of Luke and Ashley are especially good – they sound alike enough to be related, but not so similar that it’s hard to tell them apart. She captures Luke’s quietly commanding nature superbly; this is a man who never has to raise his voice, but who is quite obviously not someone to be crossed. Lord Quinn and Lady Sterne are also wonderfully realised, he bluff and hearty, she no-nonsense but clearly devoted to the man she loves. Ashley is by turns angry, despairing and loving, and Ms Landor does a superb job with Emily’s limited speech, sounding convincingly like someone who is learning to speak without any aural points of reference. As I said earlier, there seems to be a more than usual amount of narrative in the story, I suspect because with one of the protagonists being unable to speak, we are instead privy to her thoughts and feelings which tend to take longer to express. But even taking into account the reservations I have expressed, Silent Melody is a lovely, romantic story, the characters are engaging and well-rounded, and with the added benefit of Ms Landor’s wonderful narration, adds up to thoroughly enjoyable listening experience.
Book Content: B
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in (but at the very tame end)
Violence Rating: Minimal
Genre: Historical Romance
Publisher: Recorded Books