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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents to know that Soundless is best-selling author Richelle Mead's (Vampire Academy, Bloodlines) standalone fantasy novel set in ancient China. The story is a departure from Mead's urban-fantasy roots and is less violent, snarky, and romantic (although there's still a love story) than her other books. Aside from a few kisses and a violent confrontation between soldiers and a village of deaf citizens, there isn't as much mature content as can be found in Mead's other books. The story features deaf (and hard-of-hearing) main characters who sign to communicate, as well as social issues about class and caste and Chinese mythological characters such as the pixiu.
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What's the story?
SOUNDLESS takes place in a remote mountain village in ancient China, where all the inhabitants are deaf and only receive food via pulley in exchange for sending precious metals down the mountain. Fei is a gifted artist and calligrapher who is worried about her sister Zhang Jing, who's slowly and inexplicably losing her sight, like many others in the village. One day Fei begins to magically hear, and the "foreman" who sends food and supplies stops sending packages. Fearful her village will starve, Fei joins Li Wei, a miner who was once a close friend and love interest, on an impossible mission down the mountain to figure out how to rescue their people.
Is it any good?
This standalone fantasy is a solid if not remarkable tribute to Chinese folklore. The main character has a milder version of the fiery courage of author Richelle Mead's Rose (Vampire Academy) and the intelligence of her Sydney (Bloodlines). A quick read, Soundless may not please readers expecting Mead's signature snark and swoon-worthy romantic tension. As would be fitting with the ancient Chinese fantasy setting, proper Fei and her forbidden love, Li Wei, may have feelings for each other but can't think only of themselves when their duty is to their villagers and, more importantly, Fei's sister, whom they left behind in hopes of a solution.
There's not a ton of action or much by way of immersion in the Chinese surroundings, but Fei and Li Wei's journey down the mountain is just compelling enough to make the 250-plus-page-read quick and easy. Kudos to Mead for not only writing about a non-Western character but making sure the cover featured an obviously Asian model -- something that's not always done in children's publishing about multicultural characters. Although some of Mead's urban fantasies feature mature content, Soundless is light on the romance and violence and is appropriate for middle school and young teen YA readers.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the diversity of the main characters. How does Mead portray deaf culture in the story?
Discuss the caste system in the village and how that leads to Fei and Li Wei's "forbidden love." Why is this theme so prominent and captivating in literature? What are some other examples of literary couples whose love must transcend real and perceived differences?
How is Chinese folklore portrayed? Beyond the characters' identifiably Chinese names, how does the story explore Chinese myths and culture?
The book cover overtly features an East Asian character; why is this important?
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