Friday, 6 May 2016

Soundless by Richelle Mead

Soundless by Richelle Mead is a standalone YA novel, set in a mountainous Chinese (fantasy) village. The main labour in the village is mining and the unique premise of the story/world building is that the entire village is deaf and has been for several generations.

For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so 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. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.

Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.

She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…

Fei lives in an isolated and oppressed village that is forced to mine and send valuable metals down the mountain (via a pulley system) in exchange for barely enough food to survive. Due to her skill as a painter, Fei doesn't have to work in the mines and instead gets to live a life of relative luxury. However, when her sister starts to lose her sight and an accident drives her star-crossed love interest to take action, Fei finds herself taking action too. A perilous climb down the cliff side of their mountain takes the two teens on a journey that shows them the truth about the outside world and their village's circumstances. Redressing the wrongs done to their village isn't straightforward, of course.

An important thing to know about the premise of Soundless is that Fei, the main character, magically gains hearing fairly early on. Although the rest of the village remains deaf and Fei continues to sign all the time (because magic hearing does not come with magic speech recognition), it's not a book about a deaf main character. (However, as my husband pointed out when I was telling him about it, some of Fei's experiences may be similar to those of people hearing for the first time after getting cochlear implants.)

In any case, I found this a more interesting and compelling read than I initially expected. I ended up reading it in about two sittings — it's not a long read — and enjoyed the reasonably straightforward plot. I admit I wasn't sure how much of a spec fic novel it was going to turn out to be since there are minimal fantasy elements other than at the very start and end, but the ones at the end are especially fantastical.

I would recommend this to fans of YA, especially those looking for a quick read and to whom the premise appeals. I wouldn't specifically recommend it for people looking for disability in their fiction. It doesn't do a terrible job in that respect... but on the other hand there is the whole magical cure aspect for the main character. Your mileage may vary.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Razorbill
Series: Nope!
Format read: ebook
Source: Borrowed from the library (via BorrowBox)

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