Jordan, Sherryl. The Raging Quiet. Simon & Schuster, 1999. 362 pp. ISBN 978-0689870040. $
What is it about some books that makes you want to come back to them over and over? I first read The Raging Quiet and fell in love immediately. My favorite fantasy novels are set in a medieval time period with a little bit of magic or alternative history, in this book, sixteen-year-old Marnie is comely and feisty, a hard worker who wants to do right by her family when her father has a stroke and loses his position as overseer. The replacement overseer is angling for the nice house her large family still occupies, and when a vicious rumor circulates that Marnie was caught in the hay with a local boy, the only way to save face, and their home, is to agree to marry the lord’s son. Isake Isherbrook has been flirting with her and is a good dancer and easy on the eyes, so she agrees; wedded bliss is not all Marnie hopes. Her groom takes her to a village far from her home where she witnesses a local young man getting a beating. Isake stops for an ale and gets drunk, then brings her to a dilapidated cottage to consummate their marriage with none of the gentleness a virgin needs. Much to Marnie’s horror and relief, Isake falls to his death patching the roof thatch (while inebriated) a day later. Frantic, Marnie calls on the local village priest, who calls in a witness to affirm the death was an accident–but not before three villagers overhear her telling the priest it is her fault her new husband is dead (because she wished it on him, hoping to avoid the pain of her marriage bed again).
The kindly Father and his sometimes-ward Raver become Marnie’s only companions; all three are outsiders of sorts. It is Marnie who figures out Raver, named for his lunatic behavior, is not a madman but simply deaf. She begins to devise a way of communicating with hand signs, making friends with the wild boy and renaming him Raven. Meanwhile, there seems to be a question about the validity of Marnie inheriting, even though she was legally wed to Isake; his brother Pierce is convinced, like Isake, that there is something valuable left behind in the cottage by an ancestor who was put to death for witchcraft.
Mob mentality and the Isherbrook family are enemies to Marnie’s feminist free thinking; she just wants a peaceful life with her garden, goat and chickens, and with her kind and funny friend who sometimes sleeps at her hearth and sometimes disappears to the forest and fields for days. History seems to repeat herself when her efforts at making Raven civilized are viewed as witchcraft, and she is put to the test.
The novel examines religion from pure to maligned and provides a glimpse at how deaf people must have seemed in medieval times. The worldbuilding is perfect, the writing is luminous, and Jordan’s controlled vocabulary as Marnie and Raven make up their own language is nothing short of brilliant. The romance is slow burning, healing, consensual and romantic (if predictable). The painterly cover hints at the beauty of their relationship in spite of some ugliness to get there. Recommended for those who like medieval with a twist.