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The Sound of Butterflies

An unforgettable journey from the demure gentility of turn-of-the-twentieth-century England into the heart of darkness.

In 1904, the young lepidopterist Thomas Edgar arrives home from a collecting expedition in the Amazon. His wife Sophie is unprepared for his emaciated state, and even worse, his inability – or unwillingness – to speak.

Sophie’s genteel and demure life in Edwardian England contrasts starkly with the decadence of Brazil’s rubber boom, as the story of Thomas’s journey through the Amazon, and his search for a mythical butterfly, unfolds. Up the river, via the opulent city of Manaus – where the inhabitants feed their horses champagne and aspire to all things European – Thomas encounters beauty, brutality, corruption, and the limits of his own mental and moral strength.

Back home, unable to break through Thomas’s silence, Sophie is forced to take increasingly drastic measures to discover what has happened. But as she scavenges what she can from Thomas’s diaries and boxes of exquisite butterflies, it’s unclear whether or not their marriage will be able to survive what he has been keeping from her.

Winner, NZSA Hubert Church Award for Best First Novel, Montana New Zealand Books Awards, 2007
Published in ten languages worldwide




“[Italo] Calvino explores the idea that all great literature exhibits the qualities of Quickness, Lightness, Exactitude, Visibility and Multiplicity. All these qualities inhered in perfect measure in Rachael King’s novel The Sound of Butterflies. The story of traumatised lepidopterist Thomas Edgar had such a quiet and unsettling power that I found myself dreaming of the Amazon for weeks after finishing the book.

Eleanor CattonThe Luminaries

I don’t know if Rachael King has been up the Amazon but she certainly writes about it as though she has. So lucidly does she write you can easily imagine the sweat dripping down your back and the night noises in the jungle. I read this book in two days, such was the grip it had on me. It’s a brave new author who takes on a book of this scope and complexity. King has succeeded brilliantly.

Warwick RogerNorth and South

The Sound of Butterflies fuses Edwardian gentility with obsession, murder, and a glimpse of the giddy excess of the Brazilian rubber boom…It’s convincing, told in prose as opulent as one of Thomas’s specimens.

The Observer

Rich and evocative – Financial Time
"A captivating story" – The Washington Post
"As lush and captivating as the jungle in which it is set." – Kirkus Review

International media

Sets a new standard for first-time writers in this country.

Herald on Sunday

The Sound of Butterflies is engaging and tremendously well-imagined [and] …a ripping yarn. A natural-born writer, King’s prose flows as strongly as the Amazon, rich with easy lyricism…. This is a complete meal of a novel, ambitious and well planned.

The Australian Literary Review

This is a compelling read, both for the story and the lusciously rich language.

Historical Novels Review