For as long as Fei can remember, there has been no sound in her village, where rocky terrain and frequent avalanches prevent residents from self-sustaining. Fei and her people are at the mercy of a hipline that carries food up the treacherous cliffs from Beiguo, a mysterious faraway kingdom.
When villagers begin to lose their sight, deliveries from the hipline shrink, and many go hungry. Fei's home, the people she loves, and her entire existence are plunged into crisis, under threat of darkness and starvation.
Soundless differs from Richelle Mead's other novels in many ways. It's a fantasy novel set in ancient China instead of Western Europe or the Celtic worlds. Her heroine, Fei, lives in an isolated village at the top of the mountain where everyone is deaf. She's gifted and wins a place in the caste of artists, rising above her family's station of miners. The academy recruits Fei and is willing to take her older sister as well.
Not only is their village isolated but they're unable to grow any food. Instead, they send down the precious metals from the mines and accept whatever food is sent back up to them through the pulley "line system." Each villager's allocation of food is determined by the position that they hold and the function that they perform. The artists record the events of the day and are given high status as well as the best living conditions. The miners are among the lowest in caste and receive very little food to sustain them. Those that lose their sight are forced to beg and are on near starvation allotments.
Li Wei is Fei's old friend and love interest but he's a miner. With her elevation to apprentice artist, they do not socialize and won't be allowed to marry. The village society has very strict customs and rituals - Li Wei and Fei are barely able to sign to each other a full conversation. But Fei comes across Li Wei just as an accident reveals that when Li Wei's father is in increasing danger with his deteriorating eyesight. As things get worse for the village and for those that Fei and Li Wei's families, the two decide to undertake the dangerous climb down the mountain. Their journey leads them to discover the degree to which their village has been exploited over the years and the looming danger that they face.
Fei and Li Wei are compelling lead characters -- they don't have the brashness or assertiveness of the usual YA heroes and heroines, but Richelle Mead has crafted an adventure story that incorporates ancient Chinese mythology and Eastern culture. I loved Soundless and highly recommend it!
About the Author:
Richelle Mead is the author of the international #1 bestselling Vampire Academy series and its best selling spinoff series Bloodlines. A lifelong reader, Richelle has always had a particular fascination with mythology and folklore. When she can actually tear herself away from books (either reading or writing them), she enjoys reality TV, traveling, trying interesting cocktails, and shopping for dresses to wear on tour. She is a self-professed coffee addict, works in her pajamas, and has a passion for all things wacky and humorous. Originally from Michigan, Richelle now lives in Seattle, Washington where she is hard at work on her next novel.