Novel Review: The Silences of Home

Caitlin Sweet‘s second novel takes an uncomfortable look at how legends develop.

Title: The Silences of Home

Author: Caitlin Sweet

ISBN: 0-14-301681-4

Available from and


Even in a world of heroic fantasy, the victors shape popular perception and official history. The legends that grow from these may stray far from reality. The novel illustrates this fact through several related plots: a mythic society’s battle against rebels who have allied themselves with amphibious raiders, the fate of a gypsy mystic whose powers make him a potential weapon, and an associate of the queen who experiences the realities of political power.

High Point:

The final third of the book really held my interest. Many fantasy writers can sell epic battles, but it takes a particular talent to make the aftermath this interesting. I found the story of Leish particularly compelling, and relevant to a broad range of historical and contemporary situations. It’s difficult for a leader to maintain power and integrity, and characters like Leish represent the human cost of that fact. At the same time, this is not a book of simple moral solutions. If the autocratic Gahla is not the icon celebrated in Sweet’s first novel (which takes place on the same world, centuries later), neither does the book sentimentalize her enemies.

Low Point:

I found the first quarter of the book moved slowly, and it took some time before the story really captured me. The shonyn differ from us in ways that can be remarkable, but which I didn’t find consistently interesting.

The Scores:

Originality: 5/6. The distinction between official and actual history has been explored before, but it hasn’t been a popular topic in epic fantasy, and Sweet’s world feels original.

Imagery: 4/6.

Story: 5/6. Sweet weaves related plots together effectively.

Characterization: 5/6. I found the characterization, overall, to be strong; Leish stands out as the most memorable. Nellyn the shonyn represents the successful crafting of a character who does not view the world as humans typically do.

As in her first novel, the characters speak “High Fantasy” English, which at times can make them difficult to distinguish.

Emotional Response: 5/6.

Editing: 5/6. The official history has been written in a language that suggests more traditional heroic fantasy, and this works as a clever comment on the world-view typically embodied by such works. Let’s face it: it would be easy to imagine many fantasy novels as propaganda written by the victors.

Overall score: 5/6

In total, The Silences of Home receives 34/42