Listen to the Wind: The Orphans of Tolosa

Written by Susanne Dunlap
Review by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt

In the 13th century, Azalaïs and Azemar live as orphans in the forests of what is now southern France. When angry men chase them, they are separated, but never forget each other. Azalaïs is saved by a monk who encourages her to hide her gender so that she can live in the protection of the monastery. Azemar works in fields and vineyards until a physically broken nobleman befriends him. In a few years, both Azalaïs and Azemar are raised from peasantry to nobility. In a third storyline, the reader meets noblewoman Jordane, whose brothers died fighting the French, whose father has bowed to the French king, and who is about to be forced to wed a man she views as an enemy.

My knowledge of this time and place is not such that I could follow the politics at first. The three sides are the French, Rome and the Pope, and the Infidels, but as the story continued I began to understand: the Midi is independent of the French king, who wants the land to be a part of France. Anyone who is opposed to his rule is named an “infidel” and tortured or killed, thus a band of rebels hides, sometimes attacking nobles who submit to French rule.

The three main characters are interesting but flawed. Sometimes their decisions seem designed to increase the excitement of the plot rather than make sense based on their own personalities or motivations. I found some aspects of the story a bit farfetched; however, the plot is engaging and suspenseful. Dunlap’s clever use of the Occitan language adds a wonderful flavor and helps bring the setting to life. This is the first installment of the proposed trilogy of the Orphans of Tolosa.