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Release date: November 10th, 2015
Publisher: Razorbill (Penguin)
Length: 272 pages
Source: ARC from the publisher
From Richelle Mead, the #1 internationally bestselling author of Vampire Academy and Bloodlines, comes a breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore.
For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a zipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the zipline shrink and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.
But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.
Richelle Mead takes readers on a triumphant journey from the peak of Fei’s jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiugo, where a startling truth and an unlikely romance will change her life forever...
I wanted to love this, but I just can't. I hate that I don't; I love Richelle Mead's books A LOT. I binge read the entire Vampire Academy series in about a week and then threw myself headlong into Bloodlines, wherein resides one of my all time OTPs (SYDRIANNN). Mead's strength has always been, far and away, characters. The people that populate her VA universe are so vivid and alive that I'd follow them anywhere
So that's why I'm so confused and sad about what happened with Soundless.
|so, so sad|
There is a lot of good here, and even more attempted good. For one thing, the cover is gorgeous. So at least it has that. Soundless is set in a fantasy world NOMINALLY inspired by ancient China, though the inspiration is a bit surface-level, truth be told. Fei, who for some reason only has one name when all but two other characters in the book have two, is our heroine. She lives in a tiny village at the top of a mountain that is entirely cut off from the rest of the world and where there is no sound. Every villager, including her, is deaf. The village mines precious metals and sends them down a zipline to the line keeper below, who sends up food and supplies in return. Fei's village is divided into artists and miners, with the artists getting the bulk of the prestige and the rations and the miners living in poverty.
(And no, that particular dynamic makes absolutely no sense. Mining is basically the ONLY means of survival this town has. Why would the people of the village value that so little, and why would there be such a focus on art?)
Fei is an extraordinarily skilled artist, so she and her sister enjoy a life of relative comfort. But people in the village are starting to go blind--including her sister. This is BAD NEWS BEARS. And then suddenly Fei regains her ability to hear, and she and the boy she once loved--a miner, which is TRES FORBIDDEN--decided to venture down the impossible-to-scale mountain (unless you can hear, because rockslides) to find out what's what.
Whew, that was a long explanation bit. But also, I've now essentially told you everything remotely relevant about the first 100 pages of this not long book. Which is not me spoiling it; it's just that there's really nothing to the first 100 pages. Besides Fei's figuring out what sound is and how they work--which is definitely the best part of the book--the first part is a mega dragnets. And that's because of how flat the characters are. Which, again, is SO UNLIKE Richelle Mead. It's so...underbaked. The plot is limp, as are the characters and the plot.
There's still some good here, particularly in the middle portion, but it's just not there. It so could have benefited from 100 extra pages, more complexity, and enriched characters. If Fei and her love interest and her sister had been more interesting characters, I think I could have gotten on board, but alas. Like, there are a couple really nice little moments of shippery, but because Li Wei and Fei have only the tiniest fleck of personality, I'm mostly just like
Also, probs a bad idea to have the names of the two main characters rhyme. But that's just me.
Fei becomes much more engaging when they reach the bottom of the mountain, as does the plot, though it's still far too slight and full of conveniences. (Though, really, homegirl has got to learn the difference between avalanches and rockslides). The ending, though certainly the most dramatic portion of the book, is another big convenience that reeks of deus ex machina and chosen one-itis. Sigh, alas, and alack.
Also, as much as I loved the huge population of deaf characters, I'm not entirely sure that having their savior be someone miraculously given hearing is the best ever. Certain other things about the portrayal of deafness made me side-eye a teensy bit.
Seriously, with another hundred pages to really dig into the world and the characters (and maybe make some JOKES, Richelle, you're so funny and I miss it), complicate the plot, to coax some nuance, depth, and LIFE out of the story, this COULD have been great. There's one scene with Fei and the zipline that left me breathless. The whole "general" schtick between Fei and Li Wei could be super cute. And as before, the stuff with Fei regaining her sound, and Fei's artistic sensibilities and way of viewing the world, were the strongest things.
They just...weren't strong enough, which is pretty much the overall moral of the story here. 272 pages is just too short for high fantasy, leading to a story that is paper thin.
More sad Mulan gifs so we can sad about how sad this is