Soundless had an interesting premise. Fei lives in a village on top of a tall mountain. The people of the village trade metals that they mine for food from the village below. The catch is that everyone in the village is deaf. Many generations ago, the village began to lose their sense of hearing. Instead of dying out they found a way to make their society work. People are either miners, servants or artists. Fei is an artist, her job is to watch the daily activities of the village and then help the other artists create a mural recounting the events. When people in the village start going blind, they’re unable to produce enough metals and the town at the bottom of the mountain begins to give them less food. Then one morning, Fei wakes up with the ability to hear.
Fei realizes that she can use her new sense to help her love interest Li Wei descend the mountain to ask the town for help. The premise of this novel is interesting on two levels. The first, think of all the difficulties gaining a sense of sound would be after living in complete silence. People who can hear take some sounds for granted. We have natural filters that we have built up over our lives. Imagine not having that, ever sound would be overwhelming and the entire world would be so loud. It would drive anyone insane. There is room for some seriously interesting conflict here. Yet Fei gets used to her new-found ability to hear fairly quickly. She’s even able to easily hide it from those around her.
Not only could her new ability to hear work in the narrative, it opened up some interesting ways to play with prose. Here is a character who has never heard anything and she needs to describe it to those around her. Mead could have done some creative things to try and explain sound. She could have related it to other senses and experiences that Fei has shared with her village. Instead this section is completely breezed by.
The weakest element of the story is the world building. It is clear that Mead is going for the folk tale fairy tale feel. Vagueness in her world would give it a more universal feel, harkening back to works like The Brothers Grimm. Yet the novel lacks on grounding its mythology, instead of making the story more relatable and whimsical it just comes across as bland. Fei’s village relies on the mine, but it is never explained what they are mining for. There are throw off lines about precious metals, and that those who come out of the mine are covered in gold dust. When Fei and Li Wei descend from the mountain they are told about a King who values the metal from the mine. It is never explained why. Is the metal magical? Is it just pretty and used to make artifacts and jewelry? You decide.
As much as I pick apart Mead’s Vampire Academy novels, they have character. Each of her many characters had distinct voices, wants and needs and eventual end goals. In Soundless, everyone comes across as flat and undeveloped. I knew that by the end of the novel the main conflict would be resolved because there were no stakes. Fei and Li Wei were bland heroes who would accomplish their goal just because they were heroes.
Overall, Soundless wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great either. I took nothing away from the book and in a few months I will probably forget that I ever read it. For a concept that was so promising, it failed in the execution.
My biggest problem with this novel was the resolution. Fei realizes that the reason she has regained her sense of hearing was because she was chosen by a magical creature called a Pixius. Way back during the beginnings of her village the Pixius and the humans lived in harmony. The humans were protected from the side effects of mining by these creatures. The Pixius were scared away and then the villagers slowly began to succumb to the chemicals in the mine.
The pixius are mentioned briefly in the novel but no where near enough to justify the ending. These creatures end up becoming a bigger deus ex machina than the end of the Lord of the Rings.
This ties into the problem with this novel’s world building. You never get the sense that these creatures are important because you never get the sense that this story has his its own mythology. This book plays itself pretty straight, there is nothing until the end that would classify it as a fantasy novel. There is nothing out of the ordinary, nothing uncanny to give the existence of magic any believably.
Fei realizes that the only way to summon back the pixius is for her entire village to scream out in anguish. I couldn’t help but remember the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in season four called Hush. In the episode the town of Sunnydale suddenly loses their ability to speak, this announces the arrival of the monster of the episode called the Gentlemen.
The point of the episode was to critique the difference between speaking and communicating and it was very well done. That being said I couldn’t really find a lesson in Soundless other than some people are greedy and abuse others to get what they want.
I think if Soundless had been given more time to develop its world and mythology it would be been an interesting read. What we have learned of the world had my attention and I’d like to know more. Soundless is a standalone, so I doubt we’ll get any more information. But stranger things have happened.