Enchanting world-building, Natalya Newman
The King’s Nightingale
March 01, 2021
Published in January 2021, Sherryl Jordan’s latest historical fiction novel is an emotionally jarring read of cultural diversity, pain, self-discovery and development. The King’s Nightingale tells the tale of Elowen of the Penhallow Isles as she is forced to adapt to a land and culture entirely different from her own. Readers follow Elowen as she is sold to a foreign ruler for her beautiful voice and we watch as she struggles to hold onto her identity. Jordan uses a captivating writing style to tie readers so closely to the fates of the characters that we can feel every triumph and every failure alongside them. This novel gives a refreshing and emotional approach to identity.
Elowen of the Penhallow Isles is completely happy with her life. Although her family doesn’t have much to offer besides their home in the quaint fishing village of Bodruth, she is content and has no desire to leave her mother and her six younger siblings. But when pirates raid her village, panic ensues. During the chaos, Elowen is captured alongside one of her siblings, Fisher. Thrown into a world too vast to comprehend, Elowen is bound into slavery and taken to a far-off part of the world, one she had never dreamed of seeing. Yet instead of seeing possibility, Elowen feels only pain – unbearable, agonising pain – as her life as she knows it crumbles beneath her feet.
So, when Elowen is separated from everything she has ever known and sold to a foreign ruler for her ethereal singing voice, she is forced to rearrange her life. Elowen must learn to adapt and shift in ways she had not believed herself capable of. Over time, she could learn to love the city of Al-Zafar and its people, but with the responsibility of finding her brother holding her down, she still feels like she is doing something wrong. As The King’s Nightingale, Elowen rises into the king’s favour, all the while holding on in hopes of one day taking her brother home. But when it comes down to it, is her voice a key to freedom – or is it just a pretty shackle tying her to a silver cage?
The cover of The King’s Nightingale depicts a silver cage with a girl inside and a navy blue background. The title is also done in silver and is written in a flourishing, elegant font. This image provides an overview of the story, whilst also pointing towards Elowen’s mindset concerning captivity. No matter how rich or beautiful your cage is, it is still a cage and at the end of the day it will continue to contain you. Even the clothing on the silhouette within the cage hints at the beautiful culture and experiences of the characters. The graphic design gives so much personality to the book. The inclusion of the beautifully decorated front pages, the sketch of Elowen in the back of the book, the world that Jordan has so lovingly created displayed on a map, the pronunciation guide and the contents page give the reader insight into the overall story and themes without even reading the book. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, sometimes the cover is there to draw you in and give you a taste of what is to come. The King’s Nightingale has most definitely achieved this effect with its captivating design.
Jordan uses many themes to highlight Elowen’s journey. One of the most outstanding ideas is self-discovery and identity. Jordan takes us alongside Elowen as she discovers the true meaning behind herself. Elowen ties her identity so closely to her home and family that when she is away from them, she feels like she is losing herself. Is her identity her homeland and her family, or is it the life and friends she makes for herself. The answer to this question evolves and develops throughout the book, much as we all inevitably change as people. Jordan’s way of approaching this is intriguing and pushes the story to unbelievable heights.
Something that fascinates me about this story is the name of our heroine; Elowen. The way it is both written and spoken seems to almost flow. I became curious about this name, and I discovered something that fits in perfectly with the tale of The King’s Nightingale. The Cornish meaning of Elowen is Elm. The symbolism tied to the elm tree is rooted deeply in folklore, as a symbol of the Otherworld, of creation and death. This idea really connected with Jordan’s character for me as by voicing her music, Elowen is creating beauty and joy, but also creating a life for herself using her voice. Yet because of this, Elowen must destroy parts of the foundation of her identity to thrive. This could have been intentional on Jordan’s part, but either way, Elowen’s story is rich with meaning.
This book is an incredible and emotionally binding read, and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who loves enchanting worldbuilding. This book reminded me of the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J Maas in both its genre, and its approach to slavery. I am intrigued by the idea of taking control of one’s identity and reclaiming it from traumatic events, so both The King’s Nightingale and Throne of Glass catch my interest. This story will draw people in, and if there were ever more books or short stories written in this world, I wouldn’t hesitate to read them. The complexity and emotion put into each of the characters enthralls me, and I would jump at the chance to gain further insight into the lives within Jordan’s latest novel.
When a book truly makes you feel as though you have experienced everything alongside a character, it is the most extraordinary feeling. Sherryl Jordan’s style of writing does not disappoint! So if you enjoy tales of new experiences, cultural diversity, love and loyalty, you should give The King’s Nightingale a read.
- Natalya is a Year 12 student at Huanui College in Whangarei.