Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner

The Hush by Skye Melki-Wegner is a standalone (gasp!) YA fantasy by the author of the Chasing the Valley trilogy. It's set in a completely different world but fans of Melki-Wegner's style will find similarly appealing elements in The Hush. (Also, how pretty is the cover? I love it!)
Chester is on the road, searching every town for clues about his father and why he disappeared.

But when he's caught accidentally – and illegally – connecting with the Song as he plays his beloved fiddle, Chester is sentenced to death. Only a licensed Songshaper can bend music to their will. The axe is about to fall...

But there is someone else watching Chester. Someone who needs his special talents. Who can use him for their own ends. And who knows the secrets of The Hush, where there is no music, only deadly Echoes who will steal your soul.

Susannah is that someone. The young captain of the infamous Nightfall Gang, Susannah has plans for Chester. Finally, she will have her revenge.
The Hush was a pretty great read. The world is one where music is inexorably linked to magic. Anyone can sing or (learn to) play an instrument, but anyone who isn't Conservatorium-trained isn't allowed to stray into capital-M Music. Chester, our main character, of course, does so by accident and the story opens with him in mortal danger because of it.

What saves Chester from dying at the very start of the novel (which would have made for a duller read), is the Nightfall Gang, a gang of thieves who steal from the rich and give to the poor (in a world where the was never a Robin Hood). They've never been caught because they know a secret very few other people are aware of. There is a parallel world called the Hush, where darkness and danger reign, and through which they can pass practically unseen.

The members of the gang provide a nice cross section of the key worldbuilding elements. Often when there's an ensemble cast, it can be hard to get a feel for the more secondary characters, but Melki-Wegner does a good job of making them all distinct and unique. They may have overlapping backstories (if they didn't they probably wouldn't all be in the same gang), but I found their wildly different personalities refreshing.

I have a pretty good knowledge of music and there wasn't anything major in The Hush that made me think, "wait, what?" There were a few very little things that made me go "hmm" but nothing that threw me out of the story. The music magic also fed in nicely to the worldbuilding, allowing the society to have music/magic driven technology, such as guns and medicine. On a story level, I found the ending — resolution and reveal — satisfying, especially when all the hints dropped earlier in the story came together.

I really enjoyed The Hush. It's a pleasingly complex read set in a fleshed out world. I highly recommend it to fans of standalones in particular, since they are relatively uncommon. I personally would have been happy with more book set in this world — both the world and the characters were pretty great — but everything was tied off enough that it would be a challenge for the author to come back to it. I also recommend The Hush to fans of Melki-Wegner's other books and to fans of... I'm not sure how to describe this flavour of fantasy (musicpunk?). If you're at all unsure, just give it a go.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: March 2014, Random House Australia
Series: Nope
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge

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