"Whisper Silksinger knew two kinds of death. There was the peaceful kind, quiet as eyelids fluttering shut, and there was the kind with teeth, sudden as a spurt of blood, a devil pounce, a scream. She had seen both. Of her whole clan only three faeries remained, and now death had come for them too.
And it had come with teeth."
So begins Silksinger, the second book of the Dreamdark series (Penguin Young Readers, 2009, middle-grade, 441 pp), by Laini Taylor, with illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo (released today!). In Blackbringer, the first book, we met Magpie Windwitch, who is now the champion of the Djinn King. Having awakened him, and begun a new age of hope, Magpie now sets off to find the other djinn, the great magical beings who had made the world, but who withdrew from it long ago. Little does Magpie know that one of the djinn she seeks is inside a small kettle, clutched to the heart of a small fairy girl, Whisper Silksinger, who has just seen her grandparents incinerated in a battle with demons.
Whisper is now the last of her clan, the Silksingers, weavers of flying carpets and guardians of the djinn Azazel. Alone, with no shoes, no money, and no friends, she sets out to restore Azazel to his far-off home in the high mountains. It is a hopeless quest, until she meets a young caravan guard, Hirik, whose own secret mission runs parrellel to hers. Together they journey by fairy caravan, borne by dragonflys up into the mountains. But armies of demons pursue them, and dark treachery awaits. Even when Magpie finds them, all her powers as the Djinn's Champion might not be enough to defeat Ethla, the hideous enemy who has set the devils against them. So it's a good thing that there's more to Whisper and Hirik than meets the eye...and a good thing that a small, miserable, abused, and utterly poignant demon slave can be a hero too.
There are many things that make this book special. There are the characters, whose emotions, motivations, and interactions make them truly people to care about. Whisper, in particular, is a wonderful character--so helpless (at least to appearances), but so brave and with so much more to her than is apparent at first. There's the story--a great arc of story--with its desperate journey, its mysteries, and its tender friendships and fierce loyalties. And then there's the worldbuilding. In Silksinger, Laini does not quite recapture the feeling of being inside a truly fairy world that she did in Blackbringer (the trading settlements with their mercenary inhabitants that are the setting for much of the story are certainly colorful places of bustling, exotic, commerce, but didn't clearly convey "fairy" to me). But the magical details that she weaves into the story, that I think are particularly delightful for the visually-oriented reader, make up for this. Little things like this:
"But the real treasure was at Iceshimmer, where the local clan laid out a sparkling array of tiaras and jewelry that looked to be made of diamonds and crystal but were really ice, spelled not to melt. There were skeins of lace knit of real snowflakes too, and magical ice mirrors that disclosed visions to the gazer." (pp 154-155)
And things like this:
"And the skeins of death-polluted silk heard, and responded. Dozens of threads rose and danced, swaying with the tide of her voice, and merged, weaving themselves together to make the edge of a carpet. Color flushed into them as she sang, blues and reds mostly, the colors of bruising and dried blood, deepening at the edges to black." (p 330)
I first read Silksinger for a 48 hour reading challenge, and happily galloped through it. It was a great book for a fast and diverting read. I next read Silksinger over the past few days, peacefully and thoughtfully, and enjoyed it even more with time to savour the details, and to revisit the characters at a more leisurely place. It was a great book for a slow and contemplative read.
I enjoyed Blackbringer very much, and happily cheered Magpie on, confident that she would prevail (and it was a pleasure to meet her and Talon again, and to see their relationship developing). Silksinger, with its underdog characters, and its message that even the small and seemingly helpless can save the world, I enjoyed even more. It is a story complete unto itself, but I'd strongly suggest reading Blackbringer first!
Other reviews (lots of them!)
Green Man Review
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Lessons From the Tortoise
Monsters & Critics
Stop, Drop & Read
The Baryon Review
Wands and Worlds
(two disclaimers: Laini is a blogging friend, and I got an arc from the publisher)