if everyone in your village was deaf? Imagine that it has been that way
for generations, and your people communicate only through sign
language. Now suppose that the villagers are also losing their sight.
How will they survive? But what if you woke up one day and your senses
were assaulted by something you did not immediately understand? That's
what happened to Fei the day she began to hear.
My sister is in trouble, and I have only minutes to help her.—Soundless by Richelle Mead (Penguin Random House / Razorbill, 2015, p. 1)
She doesn't see it. She's having difficulty seeing lots of things lately, and that's the problem.
- Setting: in the past, China
- Circumstances: Fei and her younger sister, Zhang-Jing, are orphaned, working as artists for their village. Their village is on the top of a mountain, isolated from the rest of the district because decades of avalanches have made descent virtually impossible. The village survives through mining, sending the ore down a zipline in return for food. The amount of food they receive depends on the productivity of the miners. The people are poor and close to starving, and now many of the congenitally deaf are also going blind. When Fei's hearing returns, she tells no one but her childhood friend, Li Wei, a young man who works in the mines. Together they decide to risk climbing down the mountain to ask for help from the city below.
- Characters: Fei, about 19, an artist; Zhang-Jing, her younger sister; Li Wei, her older childhood friend and love interest; various townsfolk and people from the city
- Genre and audience: folklore retelling, young adult, adventure, some fantasy elements
- Themes: sisters, class differences, politics, love, justice
- What I think so far: This short novel got off to a slow start, and I almost put it aside. But I was too lazy to load another audiobook on my phone, so I kept listening. Once the adventure began, I became curious about what Fei and Zhang-Jing would find in the city. The story is mildly entertaining, and I'm hoping for a good ending.
- Some more thoughts: I haven't read Mead's Vampire Diary series, but I liked her Age of X series, which meant I had high hopes for this standalone novel. I like folklore / fairy tale retellings, which is another plus. Unfortunately, despite the names of the characters and some references to silk and porcelain, I haven't gotten much of a sense of China or of the tale on which the story is based.
- Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 8 hr, 18 min) is read by Kim Mai Guest, who does an okay job. Her pronunciations of the Chinese words sound authentic to me, but I have no real way of judging. Although I am not bowled over by her performance, Guest is expressive and has a good sense of pacing.
- Recommendation: I haven't finished the book yet, but I can't recommend this one wholeheartedly. Soundless would have benefited from deeper world building and more complex characters. It also might have helped if I knew the Chinese tale that inspired the book.