The Untold Tale
by J.M. Frey
Forsyth Turn is not a hero. Lordling of Turn Hall and Lysse Chipping, yes. Spymaster for the king, certainly. But hero? That’s his older brother’s job, and Kintyre Turn is nothing if not legendary. However, when a raid on the kingdom’s worst criminal results in the rescue of a bafflingly blunt woman, oddly named and even more oddly mannered, Forsyth finds his quaint, sedentary life is turned on its head.
Dragged reluctantly into a quest he never expected, and fighting villains that even his brother has never managed to best, Forsyth is forced to confront his own self-shame and the demons that come with always being second-best. And, more than that, when he finally realizes where Lucy came from and why she’s here, he’ll be forced to question not only his place in the world, but the very meaning of his own existence.
Smartly crafted, The Untold Tale gives agency to the unlikeliest of heroes: the silenced, the marginalized, and the overlooked. It asks what it really means to be a fan when the worlds you love don’t resemble the world you live in, celebrates the power of the written word, challenges tropes, and shows us what happens when someone stands up and refuses to remain a secondary character in their own life.
I knew from the moment I heard this book described in passing by the author’s agent that I was going to love it. I could just tell, like an instinct. And I was right. Frey’s tale is bold without being preachy, innovative while still being familiar, classic with a modern twist, and is easily among my all-time favorite reads ever.
Forsyth Turn is a swoon-worthy hero, though he is admittedly not what one pictures when they think of the leading man in an epic fantasy-adventure. Insecure, flawed, and adorably awkward, he’s real. But he’s more than just the point-of-view character, he’s the lens through which Frey paints her extremely relevant, extremely important message. Through him, we meet Pip, a woman who epitomizes what it means to be a fan, and who’s been literally pulled into her favorite fictional world. And through him, we watch as all the prejudices — intentional or otherwise — of the fantasy genre (and fiction in general) are brought to light.
The beauty in this book is that yes, it does challenge the tropes of the genre, and yes, it does give power to those who are too often overlooked, but it does so without sacrificing a single shred of expert storytelling at the altar of “message.” This isn’t a book with an agenda — it’s an example of what great literature should be: unabashedly inclusive and a reflection of reality. It is most definitely thought-provoking and an intelligent discourse on the state of literature, but at the end of the day, it’s the story of two people learning about themselves, facing down their personal demons, and falling in love.
The Untold Tale is written in a modern first-person present tense, and yet still somehow manages to evoke the spirits of literary greats (it has an Austen-like quality to me, though the author disagrees). Raw, often dark, and powerfully real, this is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you’ve read it, and I could not recommend it more.