It is Paris, in the very early days of the French Revolution. The Tuileries Palace has just been stormed; blood is running in the streets; and people are being brutally attacked and murdered all over the city. A boy, about 10 years old, is running through the crowds and the mobs. No one pays attention to the blood on his clothes; everyone’s clothing seems smeared with blood. He makes his way across the Seine and finds the house of an old servant. She soon brings him to the Count de Quillon, somewhat barricaded within his own compound but making plans to flee.
The boy, Charles, doesn’t speak. His muteness frustrates all who come into contact with him. The reader knows that someone has told him not to say a word, and never to speak of what has happened. What all assume is that he’s witnessed the death of his mother, who has assumed many names (and lovers) over the past decade but is still the official wife of an Englishman, Edward Savill. Savill and his wife had one child, a daughter named Lizzie, who is now 19, and wants to welcome her new brother.
The count and his entourage, including Charles, make their way from Paris to rural England. The local townspeople are suspicious of the foreigners; the British government is keeping an eye on them – Britain does not want to import the Revolution. And Savill, the boy’s father in name if not in fact, is asked to retrieve the boy from the count and bring him to London.
The Silent Boy by British author Andrew Taylor is gripping, riveting historical fiction. It’s a book that makes a reader put it down several times to relieve the tension created by the story, but pick it up quickly again to see what happens next.
It turns out that Savill isn’t the only one interested in retrieving the boy. And the count wants to hold on to him, claiming Charles is his son. And government interests are somehow involved. And Charles, never speaking but always thinking, trying to take care of himself, and taking advantage of every opportunity to escape and perhaps find his English family.
Taylor is the author of a long list of historical crime and fiction novels, including The Mortal Sickness (1996); The Four Last Things (1997); The Lover of the Grave (1997); The Judgment of Strangers (1998); The Office of the Dead (1998); The Suffocating Night (1999); When Roses Fade (2001); The American Boy (2004); An Unpardonable Crime (2004); Bleeding Heart Square (2009); Anatomy of Ghosts (2012); The Scent of Death (2014); Fireside Gothic (2016); The Ashes of London (2017); and several others. The Silent Boy was published in 2014. He lives near the English-Welsh border in the U.K.
The Silent Boy is an exciting story, filled with details of a period that witnessed so many people, private and public, caught up in the upheaval of the French Revolution.
Illustration: A scene from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.