Listen to the Wind
by Susanne Dunlap
Publication Date: April 22, 2019
eBook & Paperback; 388 Pages
Series: The Orphans of Tolosa, Book 1
Genre: Historical Fiction/Medieval
Sent away from their families for their own protection when they were very young, Azemar and Azalaïs become separated when they are forced to flee from the band of outlaws who served as their supposed protectors. Armed only with scraps of memories and the wits and intelligence that have helped them survive brutal conditions, they struggle to find each other again and discover the mysterious past that links them across distance and time. Who are they? And do they hold the secret of the legendary Cathar treasure? All they know is that knights and monks spell danger, and they must find a way to survive at all costs if they are to fulfill their destiny—and preserve their vanishing culture.
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Let me first apologise for the lateness of my post. Internet troubles have once again plagued me. Fortunately, all is fixed.
Now then. This book. Holy crap. I’ve always enjoyed Ms. Dunlap’s books, I love her attention to detail, her dedication to bringing history to life, to picking those figures who perhaps you’ve heard of, but know little about them. In this particular tome, we’re brought back to thirteenth-century Languedoc. (Modern Day France.) Two Orphans are separated from one another, and in their journey to find one another again, they face numerous trials. This is the end of the Crusades, which you can imagine brought religious strife to new levels. Azalaïs and Azemar are the main characters and I found Azalaïs to be a brilliant character in particular. I absolutely adored the intelligence, grit and, ingenuity they used to get out of whatever situation they found themselves in. Every character is well rounded, lively, three dimensional. They really come off the pages to tell their story.
I love how vibrant the world is made, how danger really struck fear into my heart, how the pain felt real…everything is beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed this. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series. I hope we find more of their origins out, because I am intrigued!
Susanne Dunlap is the author of six works of historical fiction. Two are for adults (Emilie’s Voice and Liszt’s Kiss, both published by Touchstone books of Simon & Schuster). Four are for young adults (The Musician’s Daughter, Anastasia’s Secret, In the Shadow of the Lamp, and The Academie, published by Bloomsbury). A graduate of Smith College with a PhD in Music History from Yale University, Susanne grew up in Buffalo, New York and has lived in London, Brooklyn and Northampton, MA. She now lives in Northampton with her long-time partner, Charles, has two grown daughters, three granddaughters, a grandson, a stepson and a stepdaughter, four step-grandsons and one step-granddaughter—that’s a total of four children and nine grandchildren!
In her spare time, she cycles in the beautiful Pioneer Valley.
The question I’m most often asked about this book is where on earth I got the idea for it. And that’s a really, really good question! Let me try to answer:
I think it probably all started when I was in graduate school for music history. I’ve always been fascinated by women’s place in the history of music. My first three novels grew out of that fascination—Émilie’s Voice is about a young singer and the composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier in the court of Louis XIV; Liszt’s Kiss is the story of a young pianist’s fascination with the composer Franz Liszt and his lover Marie d’Agoult; and my first YA novel, The Musician’s Daughter, is a murder mystery about a young violist in Haydn’s Vienna.
But the women in all those novels were performers rather than creators. This is a sad fact of music history, that women lacked access to the institutions and training that fostered male composers. Those who did compose were lost to history for quite a while, only being “discovered” by modern scholars within the last half-century or so—women such as Clara Schumann, Fanny Hensel, and Amy Beach.
That’s partly why the idea that a whole culture of poetry and music, which women participated in on an equal footing with men, existed in a specific part of what is now France—Languedoc—blew my mind when I learned about it in graduate school. Sadly, because this remarkable set of circumstances occurred so long ago in the 12th and 13th centuries, not much of the poetry and even less of the music survives. But enough does to give a sense of the important role of women in this tradition.
The music and poetry wasn’t the only part of this history that fascinated me. The Albigensian Crusades, the Christian religious sect of the Cathars—it was all intriguing to me. Fast-forward to a trip my partner and I took to Languedoc in 2004. I wanted to see the region for myself. We drove incredibly treacherous roads through the foothills of the Pyrenees, climbed up to the ruins of Cathar castles on their isolated pogs, visited medieval walled cities (Carcassonne, Caunes Minervois, Béziers) and the vibrant port city of Narbonne, and an idea started to form itself as I absorbed everything about this beautiful part of the world.
There are a few well-known names from the time. The brutal Simon de Montfort (not to be confused with the English Simon de Montfort, the 6th earl of Leicester), Ermengarde of Narbonne, Count Raymond VI—no doubt excellent novels could be written about any of them. But their stories weren’t the ones I wanted to tell. Too little is known about the actual women troubadours to wrap a story around them. In fact, only one trobairitz composition survives with both poetry and music, by countess Beatriz de Dia.
Thus, Azalaïs and Azemar were born, followed shortly after by Jordane and Johana, Fraire Goncort, Raimon, Fraire Martin, and the entire cast of characters who populate the adventure that is Listen to the Wind.
My hope is always that people will read my books and become interested in the actual history, that I’ll shed a bit of light on a distant time and place. I’ve got snippets of historical background on the trilogy’s Web site, https://orphansoftolosa.com, and I hope readers will explore it to find out more. I’m thrilled that this book of my heart is now out in the world to be read! And I look forward to answering readers’ questions.
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