I've been waiting for an excuse to bump Soundless, by Vampire Academy author Richelle Mead, up my reading list. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is the perfect opportunity for me to celebrate books inspired by Asian culture and folklore! This book has mixed reviews online, but I can assure you that, as a Chinese-American, I was pretty satisfied with this standalone novel inspired by Chinese folk tales.
For as long as Fei can remember, no one in her village has been able to hear. Rocky terrain and frequent avalanches make it impossible to leave the village, so 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. Many go hungry. Fei and all the people she loves are plunged into crisis, with nothing to look forward to but darkness and starvation.
One girl hears a call to action…
Until one night, Fei is awoken by a searing noise. Sound becomes her weapon.
She sets out to uncover what’s happened to her and to fight the dangers threatening her village. A handsome miner with a revolutionary spirit accompanies Fei on her quest, bringing with him new risks and the possibility of romance. They embark on a majestic journey from the peak of their jagged mountain village to the valley of Beiguo, where a startling truth will change their lives forever…
And unlocks a power that will save her people.
If you're taking a look at the one-star reviews on Goodreads, you'll notice that they take issue with the way Asian culture is portrayed in the book. Mead clearly takes inspiration from Chinese culture- the names, the food, the arts, the architecture. But the setting is an imaginary kingdom named Beiguo (which actually just means "Northern Kingdom" in Chinese).
However, I don't see this work as cultural appropriation. To me, someone who is very inspired by different cultures and loves reading fantastical reinterpretations, I don't take offense to the world in Soundless; in fact, I commend Mead for stepping outside our comfort zones. She uses romanized Chinese names, which can easily become confusing for readers if they don't know how to pronounce them in their head, which is something I struggle with as I try to write my own WIP (work in progress). The novel was written in an airy way, with a folk tale-like quality to it, which I appreciate.
Soundless is a standalone novel, which means that things happen very quickly. Part of me feels that Fei didn't grow enough in parallel to how quick the plot was forced to advanced, but part of me also understands her internal conflicts. She's a rather forgettable character, but she works very well within a book and environment that's not meant to exceed 266 pages.
The main thing that I took issue with was the ending, the resolution. I won't delve into it, because you know, spoilers, but it's a very lofty ending. There are only the subtlest of hints throughout the books leading up to this conclusion, and I can't say that it was very satisfying ending.
But you know what? Soundless was a surprisingly quick read for me. It was light and interesting, and because it's a standalone, everything wraps up neatly (almost too neatly, in my opinion...). I don't know if I would pick this up again. I don't know if I would recommend this to everyone I meet. But if you're looking for something light and quick, enjoy Chinese mythology and folk tales, and have a few hours to kill, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't add Soundless to your reading list!
I rate Soundless 3/5 stars!