Counterpoint: Dylan’s Story by Ruth Sims
At eighteen Dylan Rutledge has one obsession: music. He believes his destiny is to be the greatest composer of the rapidly approaching twentieth century. Only Laurence Northcliff, a young history master at The Venerable Bede School for Young Gentlemen, believes in Dylan’s talent and encourages his dream, not realizing Dylan is in love with him.
But Dylan’s passion and belief in his future come at a high price. They will alienate him from his family and lead him on a rocky path fraught with disappointment, rejection, and devastating loss that kills his dream. A forbidden love could bring the dream back to life and rescue Dylan from despair and bitterness, but does he have the courage to reach out and take it? Will he deny the music that rules his soul?
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Ruth Sims is a great author. I can say that unequivocally and as a huge fan. When I read The Phoenix, I was blown away by the beauty and sensuality of that book. Sims does it again with another stunning story that rides a wave of emotion from tears, laughter, beauty, frustration, and obsession. At one point I threw my ereader (gently onto the couch) in frustration then hurried to pick it up and continue reading. Although a wonderfully written historical, the themes and emotion transcend the time period to something all readers can enjoy.
Dylan Rutledge is a composer. Even from a young age music has dominated the young man’s life and become a harsh taskmaster. His irrepressible personality and behavior do no favors as he struggles in the tightly controlled society of family, education, and hierarchy of England in the late 1800s. Although eventually graduating school with some difficultly, Dylan breaks from the support and comfort of family to pursue success and love in Paris. Unfortunately while finding love with ex-school master Laurence, Dylan’s road to musical fame is littered with obstacles. From London to Paris and back, Dylan’s life is an incredibly journey in love, loss, pain, hardship, and perseverance.
In many ways this tightly plotted, well written story reminds me of historical biographies of great artists. Tortured, obsessive, painful, and redeeming, Dylan Rutledge’s fictional existence fits well with such tales of hardship and genius. The third person narrative follows Dylan through his life as he meets the first and then second loves of his life, encounters great bigotry and frustration as a composer ahead of his time, and displays all the eccentricities expected of brilliance with a touch of insanity. There is a lot of action but it is very character dependant and the characterization is truly inspired.
Dylan is clearly the star, and loves to be so. His personality is complex, difficult, stubborn, antagonistic, brilliant, frustrating, heart breaking and beautiful all at once. He is a great example of a wonderfully flawed hero. His characterization is nuanced, subtle, bold, and engrossing. You simply can’t stop wondering and thinking about him long after the story ends. His journey however is touched by a cast of equally eye catching men and women with no throw away characters. Laurence is a beautiful foil for Dylan’s intensity and wildness but he is never empty and stands well on his own. Together it makes for a lovely romance but not to be denied are Ivy, Schonnie and Geoffrey. These characters make for a totally absorbing reading experience where the personalities feel honest, real, and important. You want to know more about them and how they survive and react.
The themes of friendship, love, loss, tragedy, and redemption are folded into the story alongside great world building. I’d be surprised if any readers found fault with the historical setting and the wealth of detail afforded. The time frame is never forgot, yet manages to produce a story with universal appeal and interest. It may be historical and steeped deeply in that time period but it feels contemporary with the themes and engrossing nature. There is no dry language, dull recitation of the time period that a lot of readers associate with historicals. Instead the setting comes alive in the details, folded in with skill and timing. There is so much emotion to the scenes that you simply can’t stop reading.
Some of the best scenes – and the most frustrating – revolve around Geoffrey. He’s undoubtedly a fabulous character, the strong willed Gypsy yearning for his lost family and culture. Yet at the same time I often wanted to crawl into the book and strangle him myself for his actions and refusal to protect himself. The negative repercussions are well telegraphed and yet the scenes remain vivid, stark, harsh, and unforgettable. That portion of the book made me want to cry and yell simultaneously. It’s wonderfully written with crisp, evocative prose and shows the real flaws of the characters. Similarly, the scenes halfway through the book dealing with Dylan’s depression (not to give spoilers, the reason will make you cry). These scenes delve into the dark areas of his life and heart without the story ever feeling depressing or heavy. Instead it’s a meaty read for those that want to sink their teeth into a great story with a roller coaster of emotions.
Another great aspect is the theme of music. Dylan as a composer with Schonnie and Geoffrey as violinists create an atmosphere where you can almost hear the music being discussed. Too often translating music through a story as an essential character is difficult and falls flat. Here it succeeds remarkably well and becomes a living, breathing detail woven into almost every scene. When the music stops for part of the story, its absence is stark and obvious. It’s almost as if the book and characters are missing something vital and important.
I could go on and on about the aspects I really enjoyed since this is a memorable and delightful read, but I won’t bore readers. I’ll simply urge everyone to give this a chance, even if you’re not a big historical fan. It doesn’t read like a historical even as numerous details are constantly offered to keep the time period alive and interesting. There are parts of the book and Geoffrey especially that I wanted to slap but it wouldn’t be the same story if they were changed. I think the story is exactly what was intended down to my own anger and frustration. Thankfully the pleasure in reading far outweighs the few book throwing moments.
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