Silver Silence, by Nalini Singh

28 Jun

Over the years, I’ve stopped being blindly loyal to authors I once adored.

Most often, because there’s some change in the direction of their writing that doesn’t align with my own growth as a reader. Occasionally, I grow increasingly unforgiving of their writing tics, to the point where I cannot longer enjoy the story.

Either way, I tend to continue buying and reading books in a well loved series, because there’s always hope that the magic will happen again.

Or, perhaps, I just don’t know when to quit.¹

Which brings me to the Psy/Changeling series.

Last year, I thought I was done. Finis. The End. Game over.

However.

I was already invested in getting the next four story anthology, which…didn’t suck too terribly.² Add another year of the horrible, terrible, no-good reading slump, that stubborn hope, some amazon reward dollars…and here we are.

Caveat: explicit sex and some adult language in the book; a lot of ranting and spoilers, for both the series and this book, in the review. And I mean a lot–particularly the ranting. Proceed at your own risk.

Silver Silence, by Nalini Singh

This book is the sixteenth full length novel set in the Psy/Changeling universe, but it’s supposed to start a new arc in the overarching storyline of the series. If I understand correctly, the first fourteen books were “The Age of Silence,” the fifteenth book was…whatever it was, and this one starts “The Age of Trinity.”

The cover jacket blurb:

Control. Precision. Family. These are the principles that drive Silver Mercant. At a time when the fledgling Trinity Accord seeks to unite a divided world, with Silver playing a crucial role as director of a worldwide emergency response network, wildness and chaos are the last things she needs in her life. But that’s exactly what Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater bears, brings with him.

Valentin has never met a more fascinating woman. Though Silver is ruled by Silence–her mind clear of all emotion–Valentin senses a whisper of fire around her. That’s what keeps him climbing apartment buildings to be near her. But when a shadow assassin almost succeeds in poisoning Silver, the stakes become deadly serious…and Silver finds herself in the heart of a powerful bear clan.

Her would-be assassin has no idea what their poison has unleashed…

There are a few things that make me read more than one story by any given author, such as the writing voice and good characterization. However, for me to follow a series, I also need interesting, meticulous, and internally consistent world building. For at least the first dozen Psy/Changeling novels, Ms Singh delivered beautifully on this. Once Silence fell (see Heart of Obsidian), the series started to fall apart for me, and Allegiance of Honor was, basically, a hot mess.

Then the teasing about the ‘re-boot’ of the world, via a post-Silence story arc, started, and I was intrigued despite myself. Furthermore, the first story would be about Silver Mercant, who I had liked so much from Kaleb’s own character arc, and I just couldn’t resist.

Hope, that stubborn thing ::shaking fist:: I wanted to like this book, dammit!

As I said, we were promised new and fresh. Instead, we got basically the same story we’ve gotten at least a couple of times before, just dressed up just a bit differently.

Let’s play Psy/Changeling bingo, and see how many squares we can fill, shall we?

We have:

  • the sekrit psy ability that will either kill the one so afflicted (nod to Sienna Lauren), or put them in extreme danger (nod to Sasha Duncan, Judd Lauren, Sahara Kiriakus, and a secondary character from Blaze of Memory).
  • the painful Changeling backstory (nod to Lucas Hunter, with a tie-in to Hawke).
  • the “see, humans are as important and talented/strong as the other two races” token bits that have no actual effect on the plot (in this case, in the form of little ‘quotes’ from the human mediator who achieved the treaty to end the changeling Territorial Wars, way back whenever, as part of the chapter headings).
  • the Evil Mastermind™ who needs to foster distrust between the three races to continue to dominate financially (I think I know who this is, by the way³).
  • the sekrit racial purity organization determined to keep all three groups separate (nod to Pure Psy from, what, books six to twelve?)
  • the anti-feminist undercurrent of the series (h/t to Alex, see discussion starting here) continues unabated (see below for more detail).
  • the shameless sequel set up, with yet another character dying because of an implant who will be miraculously saved (nod to Vasic)
  • the “all Changelings are good–except when they aren’t” bias.
  • and, for a full bingo card, we have the “all Changelings and their mates must love children, want children, have children.”

We also have the same annoying writing ticks I ranted about here, and two more, for the record:

Ms Singh has a habit of digressing in the middle of supposedly tense or dramatic, or otherwise meaningful scenes, with paragraphs (if not pages), of unrelated bullshit. Like so: Silver has been poisoned, and Valentin is grimly going through her kitchen to find how, worried about her, and what if she dies, and…hey, there’s some chocolate here, who dares give her chocolate, I’m the only one who has the right to court her, she’s mine…oh, yeah, let’s keep looking for the poison.

Way to prioritize, Valentin!

Much later, he and Silver are talking about other, equally dire stuff (either that she’s gonna die, because super sekrit psy power, or Valentin is finally going to tell her about his tragic family secret, or something like that), when…we cut to irrelevant backstory of a secondary character, or a very detailed and equally unnecessary description of the clan power structure, or a playful interlude with ‘cubs’-because gog forbid anyone actually says or thinks the word ‘children’–then, wham! back to intense drama.

Except, not, because the emotional tension is broken. If the characters are so easily distracted from whatever the hell was so, so angsty and terrible, then it cannot be all that important, right?

These narrative detours appear almost every time there’s something serious/dramatic/important going on, which completely undermines the urgency of the story, up to and including Silver’s supposed fatal flaw.

The another annoying writing tic is the habit of going back: not mentioning things when they happen, but going back at some other point, and explaining every single thing that should either have been obvious on page, at the time it supposedly happened, or easy to infer after the fact. 

On page 8, Silver starts to sway on her ‘ice pick’ heels,  and Valentin picks her up; on page 9, he tells Kaleb she’s been poisoned, and on page 10 he’s going through the food in her kitchen to find the poison, by comparing it to the ‘exemplar’ that had come “from Silver, her body screaming a warning to his senses as the poison went active.” Why not say from the beginning that Valentin smells something wrong when Silver starts to convulse, then get on with things?

(Language quibble: the word meant here is ‘sample,’ not ‘exemplar’)

Valentin calls Kaleb on his cell phone on page 9, to have him take Silver to the hospital, then Valentin goes to Silver’s kitchen. On page 30, in the hospital, Valentin needs to make another call. Ms Singh then explains, on page 30, that, after that call on page 9, Valentin picked up the phone before going to the kitchen. Why not mention it in passing on page 9, or let the reader deduce it on page 30?

This constant going back to explain shit makes for tedious storytelling.

On the discussion of editing, or lack thereof, for some authors after they have reached a magic sales number: we got two more instances of “action” used as a verb in this book. Why, after publishing thirty or so books, are we seeing this from Ms Singh? Has she always done this, but it only comes through now because…why? Has the publisher decided it’s not cost effective to spend money editing a ‘sure bet’ author? What is going on? Why is this happening?

No, really, as I said on twitter, who the fuck authorized using “action” as a fucking verb?

(For those curious, this is how it’s used–twice, by Silver–“I need to action my hunt…”)

What. The ever loving. Fuck!?!?

::deep breath::

Another thing. Remember how I bitched about the humongous cast of characters at the beginning of Allegiance of Honor, because there were over ninety characters listed? and that even with that, there were a handful of speaking characters in the actual body of the novel, who were not in that list?

I am here to tell you, that I have now lived to regret bitching about an overlong list of characters.

Silver Silence has no cast of characters at the beginning, but there are about oh, thirty, perhaps thirty five, secondary characters. About a dozen of these are known to fans of the series who either have great memories, or are inveterate re-readers ::raises hand:: Among these are: Bowen and Lily Knight, Kaleb, Sahara, Dorian Christensen, Ashaya and Amara Aleyne, Samuel Rain, Vasic and Ivy, Lucas, Hawke…and I know I’m forgetting one or two more.

The other twenty or so are all new characters, most of them from Valentin’s clan/pack/whatever. It honestly feels as if all the bears who’ve ever lived have speaking roles, yet none have distinct personalities. Half the time I had no idea who Valentin or Silver were talking to, and frankly, I couldn’t care less. They were all cookie cutter “bear changeling = good guys = super capable/skilled = super attractive = bear changeling” (yes, circular reasoning intended). Not worth the effort of trying to figure out which one was who or who did what where.

And it would take some effort, because it turns out that (at least in this book) Russian people have at least three given names, and at least three nicknames, and they are called by any and all of these by the same person in the course of one conversation. It’s a ‘different nickname for a different feeling/occasion’ kind of thing. Which would be fine if you have a handful of characters, but more than a dozen new characters getting this same treatment?

If I, who at least knew about half the cast of characters from the previous fifteen books, felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of small, inconsequential minor characters showing up, with spoken lines and condensed backstories, whose voice and hair and outfit are described down to the shoes, yet don’t have actual individual personality evidenced anywhere, I cannot imagine how someone unfamiliar with the series would react.

Which brings me to the many world politics threads from the world building established in the first series arc, that were dropped, entirely, from the previous book to this one. Missing Black Sea changelings? what missing Black Sea changelings? Threats against Naya Hunter? what threats? The mental illness and dead zones and PsyNet decay caused by Silence? what are you talking about here?

There is a secondary thread in Silver Silence about how some humans feel threatened when they learn that the Psy (as a race) need humans (hand waving about the stability of the PsyNet), and the empaths’ honeycomb, with a note that something has been leaked ‘to the humans.’ But there is no follow through of this.

All we get is that the information leak about the Psy needing humans leads to the formation of yet another subterranean fanatical ‘racial purity’ sect, with a ridiculous name: HAPMA (Humans against Psy manipulation. Really.)

Which in turn means that there are a number of terrorist attacks with hundreds of casualties. And I have to say, this pisses me off, big time. These attacks provide Silver with something to do, and are the raison d’être for the EmNet (for, you guessed it, Emergency Network), but there’s literally no time spent on the aftermath of hundreds of deaths, or the effect the violence and the losses would have on the communities, both social and economic. None.

I know Ms Singh goes out of her way not to be political in the books, but come on! Repeated terrorist attacks with hundreds of casualties, in a matter of days, all around the world, with at least two known terrorist organizations behind them, used as nothing but window dressing?

::deep breath::

On the anti-feminism of the series, there are two things in this book that hit me very, very wrong.

One that I am pretty pissed about, is the idea that a female changeling who loses her mate and retreats into her animal form to cope, is selfish. We have been hit over the head for a decade that if one of a mated pair dies, the other follows. Yet, despite the fact that this individual managed to remain a functional parent for her offspring for years after losing her mate, before going off to be by herself (still within StoneWater’s territory–where she, presumably, was born too), she is then berated and threatened by Silver. Pitching woman against woman because..? Seriously, I would love an answer to this one. What purpose did the whole set up serve? What was the fucking point here?

Didn’t Lucas father let himself die after losing Shayla, back in Slave to Sensation, leaving a thirteen year old to be raised by the pack? And everyone nodded sagely, because, mated pair.

But this bear survives, so she’s selfish? Fuck. That. Noise.

::deep breath::

The other thing is a lot more subtle and insidious, and it’s the reinforcement that women are nurturers, regardless of race. Ena Mercant is the first female head of a family, other than Nikita, that we see with any depth. And pretty soon we see that the dynamic is that she’s a) not quite Silent, and b) a nurturer. There’s some lip service to how she’s ruthless and so on, but not only did she chose to raise Silver and her brother, and has made her home a family home, where ‘every Mercant was welcome,’ but all her interactions with Silver (and with Valentin, for that matter), color her as the nurturing wise woman, center of the family group.

Now, let’s compare with the only other head of a Psy clan we’ve seen closely, Anthony Kiriakus, and how, even though he was part of the Psy rebellion against Silence, and his caring for Faith and her siblings, and even his own brother Leon, it’s still in a detached manner. No nurturing here, no siree. Care, yes. Nurturing? Zilch.

And while I agree that the sample is minuscule (one female, one male) when it comes to the Psy, the difference in the dynamics follow when you examine the changelings, from DarkRiver up to StoneWater, the male alphas will play with the children, and spend time with the teens, and train with the soldiers, but the tone of those interactions is very different.

Anyway, there is some new stuff in this book.

We have the first direct references to homosexuality since Kiss of Snow; in that story, there’s a very brief scene, perhaps a page long, with Hawke, an injured female wolf, and a runner/messenger, another female wolf. (And the only reason I remember the scene is precisely because it was the first and only time, in ten books and a half dozen novellas, that there was even a whiff of anything other than relentless heteronormativity.)

Something else that we hadn’t seen before was a second Evil Mastermind™ created just for this story. Sadly, the only purpose of that story thread was to create an excuse that ‘forced’ Silver into the bears territory, their ‘Denhome.’ (Aside: the cutesy names for everything and everyone have gotten very old by now.) So, in this one story, we have the Trinity Accord (good guys), the Human Alliance (also good guys), the EmNet (yay, more good guys), the Consortium (booh, bad, baddest of bad guys), the fanatics that come up with HAPMA, and ‘the Patriot.’

(Second aside: identifying your villain du jour as ‘the Patriot’ in the current climate of extreme right, white supremacists and violent nationalists? “Tone deaf” is the mildest thing that comes to mind.)

The one truly innovative thing in this novel, as far as the world building is concerned, is the exploration of the question: what happens if someone abandons Silence, then goes back? I was intrigued by the idea, if not entirely satisfied by how this was done. Part of my problem with the resolution is that I thought that all the extraneous bullshit with the secondary villain meant that there was not enough time devoted to either the first or the second ‘courtships,’ and I wasn’t sold on the relationship between Silver and Valentin at any time.

In the end, the book was a pretty spectacular failure for me. I devoutly hope I’ve truly learned my lesson here, because these books are pretty damned expensive.

Silver Silence gets a 5.00 out of 10.

~ *~

¹ Witness how long I read the Black Dagger Brotherhood, and the fact that I bought at least seven Carpathians I had no intention of reading, before I finally gave them up.

² My memory, by the way, was a tad too forgiving; review to come.

³ I’m saying it now: Shoshanna Scott. I don’t know that I’d win anything if I’m right, but here it is.

~ *~

My reviews of the Psy/Changeling series so far:

Slave to Sensation

Visions of Heat

Caressed by Ice

Mine to Possess

Hostage to Pleasure

Branded by Fire

Blaze of Memory

Bonds of Justice

Play of Passion

Kiss of Snow

Tangle of Need

Wild Invitation (anthology)

Heart of Obsidian

Shield of Winter

Shards of Hope

Allegiance of Honor

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6 Responses to “Silver Silence, by Nalini Singh”

  1. Erin S. Burns 28/06/2017 at 8:55 AM #

    McGuffin, this entire book was an effing McGuffin. On re-read I’m finding it beary whimsical mixed in with the irritation.

    • azteclady 28/06/2017 at 9:18 AM #

      Ah yes, all the puns. Some, I admit, were beary funny, but I’m over the treacly sweetness myself.

  2. Julaine 28/06/2017 at 9:14 AM #

    Personally, if I never hear the phrase “gentleman bear” again I would be delighted.

    • azteclady 28/06/2017 at 9:21 AM #

      RIGHT????

      I mean, there *were* a couple of cute moments (I smiled at the thought of a bear trying to be ‘sneaky like a cat’) but it’s too much, like being hit on the head repeatedly with a bouncy mallet. It may not hurt but it gets tiresome rather quickly.

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