Release Date: November 10, 2015
Age Group: Young Adult
Source: Purchased copy
For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. 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 and many go hungry. Fei’s home, the people she loves, and her entire existence is plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.
But soon Fei is awoken in the night by a searing noise, and sound becomes her weapon.
Tell Me More: When I first heard about Soundless, my initial reaction was stunned confusion. A fantasy novel “steeped in Chinese folklore” wasn’t what I’d expected from Richelle Mead’s newest YA novel, though I’d honestly be hard pressed to tell you exactly what I was hoping to find. My confusion quickly gave way to excitement, as the sad dearth of characters with Asian heritage became clearer to me. Unfortunately, Soundless is not a remarkable story, its characters faded and the world too faint to grasp.
It’s hard not to have expectations for any story written by a prolific author, no matter what opinion one might have regarding their previous work. I enjoyed the Vampire Academy series, and the Bloodlines series after that, and I can admit that I wanted Soundless to at least have that same Mead kick to its dialogue and characters. Rose and Sydney were memorable and they made a space for themselves.
But Rose and Sydney are very different from Fei, though those differences are really more focused on what Fei isn’t rather than what she is. Fei is not outspoken and brash, though she does seem to be rather stubborn. Fei loves her sister Zhang Jing, but even though Mead doesn’t tell more than show, sometimes it felt like there was a wall sliding down between me and the story. Every time I found myself starting to feel things for the characters, or wondering about their history a little more, the story would drop the threads I was interested in for another subplot or character, and I’d have to start all over again.
Halfway through the story, I started to wonder if that reaction was amplified by the fact of Fei’s quiet demeanor, and how it plays into the stereotype of the quiet Asian girl. It’s a pretty prevalent stereotype, one that I myself have been questioned about, and my discomfort with Fei’s role in Soundless brought it to mind. I don’t think Mead sets out to be stereotypical or racist. I do think that the plot hinging on a Chinese village losing their ability to hear/speak, and later see, is worth discussing, for all the lenses it can be seen through. I question the choice to make the setting a Chinese village, when there are very few Chinese cultural references to be found in the story. Fei doesn’t need to make constant reference to her culture or to her heritage, but when it’s easy for a reader to forget about the specific setting and just imagine any old fantasy Asian place? The story might be worth revisiting and revising, for a different focus.
Here, however, Soundless shifts into a dystopian-esque plotline, which was a jarring change. Suddenly, there’s very little difference between Fei and heroines like Tris from Divergent, complete with love triangle. Neither boy is particularly compelling, their stories far less interesting than Fei’s, though by the time I finished the book, I had been struggling to get to the final page without forgetting what had happened in previous chapters. The boisterous, peppy quality of Mead’s previous stories was missing from Soundless, but the story itself wasn’t riveting enough to keep me interested sans zippy dialogue. I closed the book feeling uncomfortable with the development of Fei’s character when intersected with her race, and unsure if I had a right to feel that way, I questioned my reactions and Mead’s choices. While I can appreciate and admire the desire to try something new, Soundless is lackluster at best, and stereotypical/slightly offensive at very worst.
Scorpio Richelle Mead is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy books for both adults and teens. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington where she works on her three series full-time: Georgina Kincaid, Dark Swan, and Vampire Academy.
A life-long reader, Richelle has always loved mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys bad reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses. She’s a self-professed coffee addict and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous.