A Slender Tether

Written by Jess Wells
Review by Hanne Pearce

Three novellas combine to create a greater whole in Jess Wells’ A Slender Tether. Fourteenth-century France was submerging into a period eventually known as “the little ice age,” a nearly 200-year-long era of climate change that caused harsher and longer winters in the northern hemisphere. The book brings together a cast of characters from all ranges of common society during this period. A young woman, Christine de Pizan, the court physician’s daughter (and an actual historical figure), struggles with her desire to be a writer and scholar in a time when it was not an appropriate path for women. There is a doctor coping the death of his wife; a paper maker, Bernard, whose failing eyesight may cost him his livelihood; a merchant’s daughter fearing an arranged marriage; a hunter, Jean; a falconer; and the unlucky singer, Guillaume. This cast is woven together, their stories loosely and yet intimately connected.

Wells has artfully captured with economy and delicacy a time in history that is overlooked in favor of more revolutionary time periods. Notably, instead of focusing on royalty or nobility – often the inclination of historical fiction in this period – Wells has focused on ordinary people. Each of these characters is struggling with survival, their desires, and the ridged reality of society at the time. For a relatively short book that is comprised of three even smaller parts, one at times wonders what exactly the “tether” is. But, as the story draws to a close, one realizes the tether is both in the interwoven threads of characters within the story as well as the similarity of their struggles. One is left feeling connected to these people, and their cold harsh time comes across beautifully in this well-written and researched work.