THE SWORDS OF SILENCE by Shaun Curry.
HarperCollins. p/b. £8.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins.
74-year-old Provincial Francisco Pacheco is the highest-ranking Catholic in Japan and the time of his execution draws near. Guarded by soldiers and Samurai, Portuguese Pacheco leads a procession of his people, beaten and chained after a long and cruel year of imprisonment, to their deaths. The townspeople watch as the Christians are paraded past, many turning their heads from the terrible sight and the scent of blood knowing any who break the Shogun’s laws and worship that outlawed faith will meet the same harrowing end. But Pacheco will not give up. Even now they try to stifle his words, but he speaks of God and his faith until he can speak no longer.
Father Joaquim has killed a man before but his faith has never wavered. The new Shogun maintains absolute intolerance of Christian beliefs and now under his orders, Lord Shigemasa and his men are hunting down those who disobey. With a heavy price on Christian heads and the highest of all offered for priests, Father Joaquim is forced to adopt a disguise and flee his home of 25 years to try to save his village and his people.
A terrible death sentence faces all who worship the wrong religion as well as those who dare to hide a Christian in their midst. Will the priest’s tricks and deceptions fool the Samurai, will the villagers betray him to overcome the increase in taxes, and will faith keep he and his allies from harm when the net begins to close?
Based on real events and with characters inspired by those involved in Christianity’s history in Japan, and specifically The Mission of the Society of Jesus, The Swords of Silence is an intelligently presented historical fantasy that provokes thought from the start and explores the power of faith through an admirably brave and determined protagonist. In the face of threat he does not bow and break but stands firm, clear in his conviction and trusting in a higher authority, taking the reader on a journey from leap of faith to leap of faith, where allies come in unlikely forms and enemies are not as unbreakable as they appear.
This first book in The Swords of Fire Trilogy is released under the Harper Inspire imprint which places inspirational fiction at the heart of its list. The Swords of Silence is a clear fit, with its emphasis on the accuracy and realism of the historical elements of the tale. With an underlying sense of suspense from the start, fitting with the constant danger of capture under which its characters live, book one leads to a climax that is both tense and liberating, with the Shogun still very fixed in his determination to wipe Christianity from his shores.
Told in a straightforward manner, through Joaquim’s journey Curry conveys strong scenes that depict the heinous torture suffered by Christians of all genders and ages in 17th century Japan and the unwavering stance of the Shogun and his deputies. The worldbuilding is detailed and meticulous in its authenticity and there is no lack of context to events. This definitely has the feel of a traditional fantasy story, though more brutal in its description of violence, with a moderate pace delivering a balance of action and historical information. A formal style of dialogue has been adopted which suits the historical period depicted here. A forceful start to a new series which may well pave the way for similar explorations of the lesser-known evils of human history through fiction.