“Colman walked along the last car of the coal train, tapping each wheel with his long-handled hammer, listening intently to the clang clang clang. He cocked his head to the left and closed his right eye so he could hear better. The tone was just about perfect. Good—no cracks.”

Opening lines of When Silence Sings by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Sarah Loudin Thomas’ When Silence Sings is a novel which is hard to fit into a category. It is set in 1930 in West Virginia with two families stuck in a feud. At the opening, another murder has occurred. The death is that of Colman’s cousin and it prompts him to reconsider the origins and point of the feud. He feels prompted by God to preach to his family’s enemy, Serepta. He tries to avoid the calling but life circumstances lands him in the midst of Serepta’s territory.

Serepta is a fascinating character with a past that has traumatised her and her business is experiencing problems. The person she most trusts is a black man, Charlie, making their relationship dangerous and they have to keep it hidden.

To these two, a third character, Ivy, is added. She has been an outcast for most of her life and yet is full of positivity and hope. She helps doctor those who cross her path and, when she finds Colman in need, helps his recovery. Her home and care become the crossroads for the story as she connects Colman and Serepta.

The storyline is a study in forgiveness. In working through the fallout of the feud, Sarah explores empathizing with “the enemy”. She examines the place of vengeance for those who believe in Christ and she highlights the power of love and hope.

There is mystery, romance and drama throughout the novel but it appears in surprising ways. Full of rich descriptions and insightful phrases, this is one to chew over rather than rush through. There are several scenes of racial abuse and violence which I found distressing in an otherwise interesting story, so be forewarned. It’s a four out of five on the en-JOY-ment scale.

From the back cover:

Colman Harpe works for the C&O in the Appalachian rail town of Thurmond, West Virginia, but he’d rather be a preacher and lead his own congregation. When a member of the rival McLean clan guns down his cousin and the clan matriarch, Serepta McLean, taunts the Harpes by coming to a tent revival in their territory, Colman chooses peace over seeking revenge with the rest of his family. 

Colman, known for an unnaturally keen sense of hearing, is shocked when he hears God tell him to preach to the McLeans. A failed attempt to run away leaves Colman sick and suffering in the last place he wanted to be–McLean territory. Nursed by herbalist Ivy Gordon–a woman whose birthmark has made her an outcast–he’s hindered in his calling by Serepta’s iron grip on the region and his uncle’s desire to break that grip. But appearances can be deceiving, and he soon learns that the face of evil doesn’t look like he expected.

I received a complimentary copy of the book from Bethany House. through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

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