Silverlegs by Camilla Monk
Publisher: Yaypub (August 27, 2019)
*TRIGGER WARNING* This book contains several scenes of sexual abuse and rape and may be disturbing to, well, everyone.
I am having a hard time writing this review. I find myself at a loss for words. The graphic and boldly accurate representation of the misogyny of the Roman era society is deeply disturbing and yet enthralling. I was enraptured by the Silverlegs character, the charade of a girl acting as a man, a gritty and hard Mulan-esque story.
Mulan, I’ll run with that comparison. Except our protagonist has run away not to protect her family, but to protect herself from them.
The girl, I'm not sure we know her real name, runs from a disgusting stepfather and his equally abusive sons, and a mother who does not protect her from their leers and touches. When her stepfather finally takes things too far one day, she bashes him in the head and finds herself hiding in a cave, contemplating her seeming love of the violence of it, and sorting through her emotions and battered heart at his assault. In the midst of her rage, she shears off all of her hair, to purge herself of the beauty that damned her.
She is found by a group of mercenaries, who believe her to be a teenage boy. They take her to their camp, where she decides to keep up the charade, and finds freedom in being a man, while being kept against her will, at least at first, as a soldier. She takes her father's name, Constanter, and finds that she is very good at violence. She moves with a grace and lethal swiftness, and the men gift her the name Silverlegs.
Her psychological battle with herself is beautifully written. I love a book that makes me look up words. A book that makes me think, along with feel. If her name is said in the book I can't remember it, I don't think it is. And that says quite a lot. She doesn't just charade as the boy. She becomes him, embraces the power and freedom that a man has versus a woman. She loses all of her identity in becoming him. There is no girl, there is just Silverlegs.
There is a deep exploration in this book of misogyny and homophobia. The Ancient Roman culture is rife with a strangely dysphoric machismo. There is a boy in the book who is raped, and while he is filled with shame, his rapist is not even laughed at for his obvious like of young boys over women. Constanter will obviously never grow a beard or fill out a man's form as she grows, so the camp leader covers it up by calling her a eunuch. There is a distinct hierarchy of manliness that has no logical sense, it goes:
-homosexual man who is the penetrator
-mollis (a man who is the penetrated, whether he chooses it or not)
The plot is suspenseful. The characters are the kind I love, deeply flawed, could easily be the villain, but intriguing. This is the first book in a series, and I will most definitely be buying the rest of the series as it comes out.