Author: Michelle Sagara
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Horror, Young Adult
Publication Date: May 2012
Hardcover: 256 Pages
It began in the graveyard…
Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was. For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan’s death. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there–Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death…
Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief. Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn’t known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead. In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic. That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living. And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.
Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma’s group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead. But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone’s guess. And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen. Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her. But only time would tell what Emma’s true destiny was…
Stand alone or series: Book 1 of the Queen of the Dead series
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: I’ve tried some of Michelle Sagara West’s books before in the past and have had mixed results, but I was intrigued when I saw that she would be writing a contemporary fantasy novel for the paranormal YA market.
Emma and her loyal dog Petal (an incongruously named rottweiler) are on their usual evening stroll through the neighborhood cemetery. After the death of her boyfriend, Nathan, in a fatal car accident the prior year, Emma has taken to visiting the graveyard, wrestling with her solitary grief in the long, quiet hours of the night. On this particular night, however, things are neither solitary nor quiet, as Emma runs into the charming new guy in school, Eric, who is casually walking among the headstones at night for reasons unknown.
Eric is not the only other person in the graveyard, though – an old, haggard woman carrying a lantern approaches Emma and gives her both the lantern and a grotesque kiss before Emma loses consciousness. Then, things start to get really strange – Emma has excruciating headaches, nausea, and then she starts to hear and see things that no one else can. Emma can see the dead. More than that, Emma can communicate with these honest-to-goodness ghosts, and can even bind them to her will. For new guy Eric, who is sworn to protect against necromancers, Emma is a problem that needs to be eliminated. But the more he gets to know Emma, her family, her friends, and the lives she has touched, the harder it is to kill her. Emma is determined to use her powers for good, but as her abilities grow, the lure for more power can be a hard call to resist.
I haven’t read a Michelle Sagara West book in a good long while – I remember reading the Cast series and the Sundered books and liking them, so I was intrigued when I saw this paranormal YA title from an author whose work I’ve only consumed as high fantasy. The coolest thing about Silence is that while the story itself seems familiar and almost pedestrian in an increasingly populated paranormal genre (how many books are out there these days with teenage girls that can see dead people following x traumatic experience?), the writing and the characters make Silence a strong, memorable read.
From a pure plot perspective, there isn’t really much new, exciting, or groundbreaking about this first book in a planned series. Silence features a heroine that has undergone her share of trauma, and now can see, speak to, and even control the dead (who of course dwell among us). There’s an interesting world of necromancers, ghosts, and power, which is revealed at a nice slow burn over the course of the novel – but this isn’t inherently new or anything to write home about.
Rather, the strength of Silence lies with its expertly assembled and executed ensemble cast, and the strange, lilting, yet completely winsome prose.
I adore the fact that this book sounds and reads nothing like your typical YA paranormal novel. You know what I’m talking about, right? The paranormal YA with a shy/slightly outsider-ish/unassumingly pretty heroine, who falls for the dangerous new hot dude, engages in something of a love triangle, and solves a mystery to Save Everyone before calamity strikes? You know the type of novel I’m talking about – cookie cutter, bland, unholy-spawn-of-Twilight boringness. Silence might resemble these tropes in theory, but in form, it far exceeds them. Starring an empathetic heroine in Emma, who is strong in her own quiet way, Silence is not a book about Emma’s insecurities or her fawning over her newfound, undying love for Eric. Rather, it is the story of a girl that has gone through some very tough times, has gained some extraordinary and dangerous powers, and is growing as a person over the course of the novel. It’s also an ensemble piece, with strong representation from many characters, including a best friend that is so much more than mere background support, a high-functioning autistic boy named Michael that is both Emma’s good friend and a litmus test for things that happen late in the book, a queen bee (that cares for her friends, for a change), a mother and a father that are strained but inexplicably present and integral to the story, and of course, two new boys that are bonded by friendship and gradually are accepted into Emma’s tangled, close-knit group. I loved all of these characters and the nuances and layers they bring to this otherwise straightforward story.
And, as I mentioned before, I love the actual writing style employed by Ms. Sagara in Silence. Instead of a linear progression or recounting of events so familiar in many of the popular YA books today, Silence is a slightly different animal, posing questions and leaving them tantalizingly unanswered, trading the overt sledgehammer technique for a more subtle technique. I cannot express enough how much I love this.
Overall, I found Silence to be an interesting take on a collection of tried and tired genre tropes. There’s enough here to keep me excited for the next book, and I’m excited to see what happens next for Emma and the gang. Recommended, especially for those readers looking for a break from the more monotonous, uninspired blahness of current Paranormal YA.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
EVERYTHING HAPPENS AT NIGHT.
The world changes, the shadows grow, there’s secrecy and privacy in dark places. First kiss, at night, by the monkey bars and the old swings that the children and their parents have vacated; second, longer, kiss, by the bike stands, swirl of dust around feet in the dry summer air.
Awkward words, like secrets just waiting to be broken, the struggle to find the right ones, the heady fear of exposure — what if, what if — the joy when the words are returned. Love, in the parkette, while the moon waxes and the clouds pass.
Promises, at night. Not first promises — those are so old they can’t be remembered — but new promises, sharp and biting; they almost hurt to say, but it’s a good hurt. Dreams, at night, before sleep, and dreams during sleep.
Everything, always, happens at night.
You can read the first three chapters online here
Rating: 7 – Very Good
Reading Next: The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin
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