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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

“Silence” by Michelle Sagara (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “SilenceHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

I admit, when I saw that Michelle Sagara’s Silence was the first of a series named “The Queen of the Dead” of all things, I was pretty suspicious. I also saw that the main character can’t get over her boyfriend who died in a car accident months before, that she spends a lot of time hanging out in the graveyard, and I expected her to be whiny and melodramatic. I should have known better, but regardless, I definitely wasn’t expecting to love this book, and love it I do.

The first thing that makes Silence stand out is the characterization.

First there is Emma, whose defining character trait is compassion, which is still unusual and welcome enough that I took special note of it. Friends Amy and Allison both could have easily been stereotypes of the pretty and bookish girl respectively, but they’re not. They are both well-rounded people without any one defining characteristic, not just embodiments of traits for the protagonist to interact with. I think a lot of authors try not to explode their cast, but Sagara makes it understood that the protagonist has friends, many friends, in more than one social group, and she has interactions with other people in her grade and outside it. I believed that she had an actual social sphere, and I believed her as a high school student.

I also loved Michael. I loved that he was portrayed as one of Emma’s friends who is also autistic, rather than as the special needs character who is Emma’s friend. It’s a fine distinction but an important one. Michael isn’t just a believably autistic character, he’s a believable character. Friends help and take care of Michael, yes, but he isn’t a burden they bear; for our protagonist that care is one of the things that keeps her from drowning in grief, but more to the point, Michael also takes care of them. He isn’t there as a token special needs character, either; the story literally could not work without his character’s presence and input. As Seanan McGuire points out more eloquently on her blog HERE, I also really appreciate Sagara’s inclusion of a type of character that is so often invisible in genre fiction as one of the heroes.

One of the other things I really appreciated was not just how Michelle Sagara chose to deal with death, but that she chose to deal with it at all. There seems to be some kind of taboo against talking about death, not so much that death happens, but how we feel about it afterwards. That even after the funeral, we do still feel it in our bones, we don’t just go back to our lives unchanged. People seem to expect that someone close to you dies, you’re sad, and then you move on. Maybe that’s true for some people, but it isn’t for everyone. Characters in this book are touched by death, and it marks them. They’re not curling up into balls and crying in the corner, they function, but that’s not the same as moving on. The protagonist is always “fine,” but that’s not quite the same as being “okay.” Again, a minute distinction, but an important one.

I also liked that Silence wasn’t about romance, because the protagonist wasn’t in a state to carry that, and that’s fine. I hope Emma has romance in her future, but it wouldn’t have fit in this book.

There were a lot of unanswered questions. When I finish a book going, “WHAT you can’t stop there I need MORE,” that’s generally the right kind of problem for a book to have (and this one had it). On one hand, “leave them wanting more” is a good strategy, especially in a series. On the other hand, there were a few questions that I think actually needed answering to fulfill the tacit promises to the reader. The characters wouldn’t have waited to ask them. One important question was cut off with a vague affirmation before the question could properly be asked, which is really annoying to me, because I feel like I’m deliberately being misled. And seriously, the end was a giant cliffhanger. -_-

It probably goes without saying that I can’t wait for the next book, Touch, which is currently expected to come out in January.

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