Classic books. I’m only a sophomore in high school, and already I’ve had enough of them to last me a lifetime. Of Mice and Men, The Scarlet Letter, The Red Badge of Courage. . . don’t get me wrong, I love my classics as much as the next person, but I prefer them like my music: rebellious, humorous, and addictive—think The Catcher in the Rye. Belle’s Song by K.M. Grant seems to effortlessly manage to be all three of those things—and it’s got a healthy helping of historical fiction.
In this retelling of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, we fall quickly into the odd and quite sad lives of Belle and her father, a disabled and retired bell founder. (A bell founder creates bells for churches, and things of that sort. Still got you covered!) Belle is every bit as lively as a girl her age should be; she lives vicariously through books, has an entire life in her head, and wants nothing to do with common chores such as cooking and cleaning. Instead, she and her father depend on the widow for tasks such as these. (The widow is a woman from town who is paid to take care of Belle’s father. A page or two into the novel, we learn of the death of Belle’s mother.)
Their lives are simple, quiet ones, as Belle’s father can no longer make the bells he so loved years ago. He suffered an accident while hanging a bell; he made the mistake of appointing Belle to watch and make sure no one stepped out of line. Belle, of course, was in another world, twirling about and pretending to be King Arthur’s sword. She momentarily lost her balance and stepped sideways, causing the men to lose their footing and the bell to come crashing down on her father’s legs. (Ouch. Trust me, I shuddered when I read it, too.) Belle blames herself for this, to the point where she has developed little superstitions just to make it through the day. Anything can make bad luck unless it comes in threes, and I mean anything; Belle cuts her food into three pieces, hops three times before climbing aboard a horse, even says the same prayer three times before bed. And, even worse, she uses a pumice stone on her legs when she feels particularly guilty. (Pumice stones are the rough gray rocks that people use to smooth their feet.)
As she would give anything to make things up to her father, Belle decides on a whim to join in a pilgrimage to Canterbury to pray that her father will walk again. She is given a beautiful horse to ride by the very wealthy (and very handsome) Walter de Pleasance, a nobleman’s son who seems to be as enthralled by Belle as she is by him. As if one boy wasn’t enough, Belle also soon catches the eye of Luke, the son of an alchemist and apprentice to Master Chaucer himself. And to make things even more complicated, Master Chaucer seems to have gotten himself in the middle of a very dangerous political game, which leaves the fate of England (and its king) hanging in the balance. Secrets are spilled, jousts are won, miracles occur (or seem to), and love finds itself in the most unlikely places.
Belle’s Song is all in all a fun, thrilling read. I felt like I could relate to Belle in the way that she has ‘an entire life inside her head,’ as she puts it. Sometimes it gets her into trouble, and sometimes it saves lives. The story is told well after Belle has settled down and married, and the prose is thoroughly engaging and realistic. I found myself wanting to join in on the pilgrimage a few times throughout reading the novel. Belle’s Song is definitely something that I’m going to read again. I award it four out of five jars of Nutella.
Marna is a current high school student on the East Coast. Reading, writing, and music are her LIFE, as well as her friends and family. She is in the process of writing about four different novels (because her attention span is insanely short) and she hopes to become published very soon!