Literary Review: "At What Cost, Silence?" by Karen Lynne Klink
Only ask and I will review. Stephanie Barko, a talented literary publicist, has asked me to review Karen Lynne Klink's latest novel, At What Cost, Silence? Book one of The Texian Trilogy. The novel follows Adrien Villere, his willful sister Bernadette, and a few other insightful characters living on a plantation in pre-civil war Texas. In the eyes of the world around Adrien, his sexual identity is considered an affliction of the mind. Bernadette fights to live the unconventional life she desires. In the midst of one of America's most historic wars, their choices have rippling consequences no one character can control.
A bisexual young man grapples with questions of integrity and masculinity as he and his unconventional sister and slave brother struggle for respect and a future between dark secrets and unbridled passions of two plantation dynasties.
The novel was provided to me as an advanced copy, and I have to admit that I was several chapters in before I realized it. Prior to this point, I had never encountered Klink's work and must admit I’m impressed. Klink’s talent is demonstrated effortlessly through the interpersonal relationships of her characters. The characters’ relationships to one another are clear and concise. Her narrative and dialogue assigned to either interaction leave the reader feeling almost as though they’ve known these characters all their lives in five sentences or less. Klink's narrative introduction to her characters is a good example of this.
"My sister was not one to hesitate if she had something to add to any conversation...Perhaps that was due to Maman’s family having to flee France as a result of the Troubles there.”
Klink's novel is an intriguing page turner right from the start because of this aspect of the story. There was never a time when I questioned believable familiarity or hostility between characters. The narrative builds relationships patiently over time with clear introductions. In Klink's novel, this aspect also proves to be the story's greatest strength, as the plot relies on the reader's emotional investment in each character to carry the weight of each interaction and perspective. Our protagonists' journeys are affected by betrayal, differing perspectives, and moral dilemmas, which add up to a powder keg of emotions.
It's the characters, the pacing, and the narrative that make Klink's novel so engaging. A series of observations made by the characters about their relationships is insightful and feels very personal. When it comes to her characters' struggles and frustrations, Klink doesn't mince words. The reader is offered a personal stake in empathizing with and connecting with the characters throughout the novel. As Adrien explores more of his sexual identity over time, he offers a refreshing self-awareness.
“I can jump on Troy and ride down a ravine, jump a fence, do any number of things that might cause injury…But if I were to, do this, stand up for myself, I am bound to lose.”
By rotating perspectives from chapter to chapter, Klink offers readers a unique perspective into the struggles of her characters. Readers become intimately aware of frustrations experienced by one character that other characters may not understand. It is through this tool that Klink's clever use of rotating narrative enhances the reader's relationship with her characters. My favorite stories are those in which the reader is given a little more insight than the characters themselves. As a result of this narrative strategy, misunderstandings between the characters are explored to offer the reader thought-provoking perspectives. A hook like this rewards the reader's investment and makes them want to keep reading.
If there’s one criticism I can offer Klink’s novel, it’s a lack of setting the scene throughout the book. The setting of a historical fiction story is, in my opinion, its own character. There’s never a time I don’t crave the painted picture of a world I’ve never lived in. The sights, the smells, the atmosphere—everything. When Klink does describe the scene in which the characters are set, she does it brilliantly.
"He had strolled up the stone path through his mother's wildflower garden profuse with purple foxglove, asters, and yellow daisies in the back door, ordered up a late breakfast of sausage, eggs, cornbread and coffee, and was on his way to the stables when she called from the veranda."
The presence of Klink’s descriptions are lovely and vivid but few and far between. I found myself longing for more scenes painted around the engaging conversations of the characters. Longing for a glimpse of the space around them or the feeling of the blistering Texas heat exacerbating Adrien’s feverish contemplation of his identity. I wanted to feel more of the character that is pre-civil war Texas and the rising tensions of what is inevitably approaching on the horizon. What looming dangers are encroaching on the conflict the characters are already facing. Klink's vivid backdrops kept me wanting more, so I hope more from the series to come.
Klink’s novel is a recommended must, there’s no two ways about it. At What Cost, Silence? earns an easy 4 out of 5 stars from me. A great story, compelling characters and exemplary narrative craft make Klink's novel a great read for writers seeking character study. Klink's novel also proves to be an excellent choice for readers unfamiliar with historical fiction. For readers who are overwhelmed by the deep immersion that historical fiction genres tend to offer, this novel's serviceable page count, focused narrative and humane spirit make it a good first choice.