The Freedom of Birds

Written by Stephanie Parkyn
Review by Marina Maxwell

As Napoleon continues his rampage across Europe, the lives of three young performers become intertwined in a series of adventures. Close friends Rémi and Pascal are forced to leave Gianni’s Comédie-Italienne theatre in Paris. Dodging conscription, they take to the road as tellers of tales. Meanwhile, Saskia’s mother has given her to a circus, where she perfects her contortionist skills only to be kidnapped by a sinister priest, simply known as Father. She escapes and meets Rémi and Pascal.

While in Prussia, the trio encounter increasing antagonism towards anyone with links to France. Combined with the impending publication of the Brothers Grimm book of fairy tales that could spell the end of the vagabond storyteller, they leave for Venice, where they are thrilled to be reunited with Gianni until events propel them once again to the road and the horrors of war.

There are a few subtle echoes here of Scaramouche and other commedia dell’arte characters. Rémi is reckless and boastful, Pascal conflicted and cautious, while Saskia is brave and sharp-edged yet lives in constant fear of Father tracking her down. All three struggle with abandonment by their mothers and have romantic notions of returning home but must come to the realisation that home is not a place, it is with the people who share your journey.

There are some links to the author’s earlier books, Into the World and Josephine’s Garden, but it is not necessary to have read either to appreciate this one. Initially, the narrative style may be distracting—Rémi tells his story in the first person while those of Saskia and Pascal are in third—but once immersed in this dramatic and colourful world of travelling players and a continent engulfed in conflict, it hardly matters. Another immensely satisfying novel from Stephanie Parkyn.