Cry Silver Bells

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Cry Silver Bells by Thomas Burnett Swann.

Swann Cry Silver Bells

I don’t know how I managed to miss the work of Thomas Burnett Swann for all these decades. Cry Silver Bells is the first novel of his I’ve read, and I liked it very much. It is set in ancient Crete, with the matter-of-fact inclusion of various Beasts (Swann’s capital) of ancient myth and fable, such as Harpies, Centaurs, Tritons, and Sphinxes. The title character is a Minotaur. Narration duties alternate between a young Egyptian exile (of Achaean descent) and a Dryad, but the book as a whole is really the Dryad’s story, with the human narrator just supplying a more familiar viewpoint and priming the reader to sympathize with the Dryad Zoe.

George Barr provided the cover art and a small handful of interior illustrations for the DAW paperback, and they are all quite nice. I don’t think it was just Barr’s art, though, that made me think this book would make a wonderful animated feature, although not a Disnified juvenile one by any means. Swann is frank about the erotic motives and activities of his ancient characters. There is a significant plot twist, but enough foreshadowing that an attentive reader will be prepared for a less-than-happy ending.

Cry Silver Bells is a short book, with some interpolated poetry (sung by various characters). The prose style is direct and lucid. I wouldn’t call the book especially edifying, but it was a pleasure to read. I will certainly read more by this author, who died of cancer in his late 40s when I was under ten years old. Although Cry Silver Bells is part of a trilogy (the first of the three in narrative chronology, the last in publication order), I have already acquired a copy of the standalone novel Moondust.