Standalone by Richelle Mead
What a disappointment. This was the first book I’ve ever read by Richelle Mead, of whom I’ve heard lots of good things. I hope that since this is a standalone, it isn’t indicative of whether I’ll like any of her series. I don’t want to write her off as a Not For Me author based on this book. The writing isn’t bad, per se, but the story is a letdown.
Soundless looked like all of my catnip for YA. Asian mythology, mysterious happenings in a cut-off mountain village. A micro world where no one possesses the ability to hear. I expected something special from this mix as well as each individual element.
Instead, my impressions while reading can be summed up in three words: tedious and lazy. The setting is unbelievably weak. If you changed the names, it could be any imaginary low fantasy or pseudo European medieval world. This became most apparent in a scene where the man character Fei describes eating a noodle dish like a tourist. She has reasons to find it unfamiliar, but I just didn’t buy it. The story doesn’t earn anything because it doesn’t work for anything. There’s a blonde woman who appears out of nowhere, I guess to show that the township is metropolitan and has immigrants. She doesn’t do anything or serve any purpose.
The mass deafness of the villagers was mostly confined to their having no concept of hearing as a sense and to let the only hearing villager behave like Spiderman. Mead seemed to constantly struggle with depicting a culture with no sound. In the scrolls that Fei consults to learn what hearing is like, almost all of the descriptions of sounds rely on a knowledge of sound to be understood. Fei herself points this out, but it’s not Better Than a Bare Bulb. The worst bungle is that although the villagers all use sign language to communicate, it was always too much like audible speech in construction. They use too many words and they sign in times when they should be using their hands to do something else. At best, it came off looking like telepathy.
My saddest face came from realising that the mythology/supernatural elements don’t show up until the end. Seriously, the world is mundane until the second to last chapter, and then the magical stuff solves everything. Magically.
Pros: Fei is likeable enough, if somewhat bland, and although I found her view of her artistic talent to be twee and pretentious, it is a legitimate talent which she actually uses to solve more than one problem. Not simply informed or never used. The romance is fine. Technically, there is a love triangle, but I found it to be Blink and You Miss It. I thought that the obstacle keeping the couple apart was cheap and ill utilised (different castes, but it totally didn’t work), but I believed in their mutual feelings and they complemented each other nicely. The ending is suitably lovely.
I’m terribly picky, so even though disappointment is my reigning feeling/opinion, I would hardly “warn” other readers away from this book.