The Strong and Silent Type

One of my most re-read books over the past few years has been the Touchstone Trilogy. I reread from about the point Cassandra is found to have an enhancing talent rather than quite from the beginning, but I skip relatively little from then on. I’ve also listened to the audiobooks twice. There’s just a lot that appeals to me in this series, including the extremely slow-burn romance subplot, in which Cassandra literally barely notices Kaoren at first. It’s a wonderful contrast to the sort of ridiculous story where the female lead first meets the male lead while fighting for her life and is immediately, in the midst of all this wild struggle, distracted by how hot and sexy he is. Not to get distracted from the subject, but I absolutely detest that trope, which constitutes an instant DNF for me.

What I’m actually thinking about is Kaoren Ruuel as a character, and why Cass isn’t instantly struck by him, and why and how he grows on both Cass and the reader. A lot of that has to do with his competence, and a lot of the rest is how that competence is expressed — almost entirely through actions and almost not at all through dialogue. Kaoren is practically the exact opposite of the romance lead who catches the reader via witty banter. I can enjoy that too, and often do, but Kaoren is totally different and the way he interacts with Cassandra has nothing to do with witty banter. Instead, he says just a few words now and then that happen to be perfectly suited to the moment. My favorite was when he told Cassandra that her lab rat design was “not inapposite.” He’s just so understated! I don’t know if any of you particularly enjoyed that, but I sure did.

I don’t know how many protagonists or important secondary characters are that taciturn. Kaoren basically never says ten words when one will do. Who else is like that? Or falls into the broader category of hardly speaking?

A) Sicarius, the assassin and male lead in The Emperor’s Edge series by Lindsay Buroker. The difference here is that the female lead, Amaranthe, is all about the witty banter. Sicarius does not reciprocate in that department. At all. It’s another very slow-burn romance, and I guess I will add that certain plot elements do not make a lick of sense. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a lot of things about this series, including Amaranthe’s witty banter. And I do like Sicarius. He’s not believable, but he’s fun to read about.

B) The mute scullery maid in The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I’m not sure I’d call her the protagonist. I guess I wouldn’t. I’m not sure what I would call her. The central plot element? Sort of? But she never says a word until right at the end, which makes those words remarkably powerful.

C) While we’re on Patricia McKillip, I think Peri in The Changeling Sea might fit. She certainly keeps her own counsel very thoroughly for a tremendous amount of the book.

While on the subject, it’s a crying shame the publisher ever published this book with a cover other than the original by Michael Whelan, one of the all-time best fantasy covers in the history of fantasy art:

D) This reminds me of another book with a speechless (or nearly) protagonist, and a cover that is much (much) worse now than the original: Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls. Here the protagonist, Sarah, can talk only by directly quoting something, such as lines of poetry. That’s just as original and peculiar as it sounds. Also, the story is excellent in many ways, so if you’ve never read it, you absolutely should.

Here is the cover on my copy:

Here is the current cover:

And, ugh, that is not in any way an improvement. I hate practically everything about it. I would never in a zillion years have picked this book off the shelf and looked at it if this grim monochromatic cover had been on the book at that time. It doesn’t fit the feel of the story at all. I mean, at all.

But moving on:

E) A different sort of uncommunicative character: Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich in The Thousand Names series. I will remind you all that the first book is excellent and self-contained. It is not exactly a low-tension book, and do you know why? Right, because Janus never tells anybody anything, that’s why. He certainly does chat, but his plans for evading a terrible disaster? Yeah, he doesn’t share that sort of thing. Occasionally with fairly serious consequences.

F) Although I have a handful of characters who are fairly taciturn (Neill) or who decline to explain what’s going on (Beguchrin), you know who best fits the category of “taciturn protagonist?”

Kuomat, that’s who. Not only does he steadfastly refuse to say a word about his past — until he has absolutely no choice whatsoever — he is also just not at all chatty. I’m imagining the look he’d give someone if they tried to prod him into witty banter. I mean, there’s no way. It’s funny to even think about it. He’s set apart in a lot of different ways and for a lot of different reasons, but I can’t imagine that he was ever casually chatty, even as a young man.

I’m starting proofreading this one too, by the way, even though I may have some (hopefully minor) revision to do still. Oh, and I should probably add: this book is up for preorder now.

I feel like I’m forgetting any number of taciturn protagonists and important secondary protagonists. If you’ve got a favorite strong-but-silent type in mind, definitely drop that in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “The Strong and Silent Type”

  1. And a beautiful choice that is, Allan. Also, one of the most beautiful and perfect fantasy novels ever written. I should do a post just on that — the most beautiful and perfect fantasy novels. I can think of three right offhand, including this one. AND The Book of Atrix Wolfe, come to think of it.

  2. You just made my day! I have thought of that Jane Lindskold book many times over the years, but I couldn’t remember the author’s last name or the title and there’s no way that modern cover would have enticed me even into reading the description. I hope you’re using affiliate links. I’m so excited to get to reread it now! (Also, I really do hope you’re using affiliate links because I bought the whole Black Dog series from a link here when it was on sale, and also The Hands of the Emperor by Victoria Goddard, and I’m sure I will be making future purchases, too. Your blog is not very good for my book budget.)

  3. Sarah, that’s great! I’m not — it never occurred to me — but I guess I ought to look into that! But I’m happy you picked up the BD series regardless, not to mention The Hands of the Emperor.

  4. I wish the first edition hardcover of The Changeling Sea had had that Whelan cover. It didn’t, and it’s the one on my shelf.

    I’m having trouble thinking of any other strong silent types in the genre… I don’t suppose Bothari? … Maybe the male protaganist of Janny Wurts’ To Ride Hell’s Chasm. I remember him being on the silent side. Cherryh’s early character Niun, but he’s not human, he’s mri.

  5. After reading the Touchstone series the first time, I had to go back and reread it just paying attention to every interaction Cass had with Kaoren. Even though she fell for him, I didn’t think they were going to get together (though I really wanted them too). It was so effectively done.

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