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I am quite a fan of Richelle Mead – I enjoyed Vampire Academy and (most of) her Bloodlines series. She has a skill for creating strong characters and weaving an elaborate mythical world. Soundless is her latest tale, and unlike the others, it is a stand-alone story set in a dystopic world inspired by Chinese folklore, specifically concerning the pixiu, the winged dragon-lion noted for driving evil away and bringing wealth.
Fei lives in a tiny village, atop a mountain. Her people are trapped there, entirely dependent on a zipline to the village of Beiugo, below. In exchange for food and other resources, they send down precious metals taken from their mine. Her people are trapped, also, in silence. Everyone is deaf, and now some of her people are starting to lose their vision as well. Ironically, as Fei’s sister, Zhang Jing, goes blind, Fei begins to regain her hearing. And then, as productivity from the mine fails, the deliveries from below decline. It is up to Fei, and her childhood sweetheart, Li Wei, to make the dangerous and deadly climb down the mountainside, to face up to the Line-keeper and deliver a plea for help. Unfortunately, what they find is not what they expect, and help is not going to be so easy to come by…
Written like a fable, this tale is short (around 300 pages) and the plot relatively simple, with little to surprise me. Mead has taken on the challenge of describing sound from the perspective of a character not previously exposed to the concept, and done a reasonable job. The chapters are short, often ending with a cliff-hanger (sometimes literally, as they are scaling down the mountainside) to entice me to read just one more. Unfortunately, the characterisation fell a little flat for me – although Fei was admirable in her courage and determination, she did not have much depth. Her relationship with Li Wei, for all that it was forbidden (for she was an artist, and he a humble miner), was sweet but lacking in the passion and conflict that generally drives along the plot. The Chinese flavour is somewhat subtle, mostly obvious in the names and the presence of the pixiu.
Overall, Soundless is the sort of story that is suited to someone – probably teenagers or tweens – seeking a quick read, or the more reluctant reader. Whilst the plot lacks sophistication, it is intriguing and appealing, keeping the reader engaged. Like many dystopia-type novels, it can suffer from over-analysis by the more critical reader (such as myself). I feel I would have enjoyed it more were it longer, delving deeper into the mythology and culture from which it drew its inspiration.
Reviewed by Angela Oliver
by Richelle Mead
Published by Michael Joseph