Reading. Reviewing. Reacting.
Chapter by Chapter.
Let it be clear that I am Chinese. I’m not Mainland Chinese (which means that I’m not from China) and I’m not the most traditional or superstitious Chinese as well. However, I’m not gonna lie and say that it doesn’t irritate me when someone portrays my race and it’s culture, traditions and history, in anything without any solid research. Of course, there are variations between the cultures of Mainland Chinese and Chinese elsewhere, but that’s not a proper excuse. Thus, I’m prepared with a certain degree of resignation and some tiny sparks of hope that for once, a non-Asian author will get an Asian culture right—even if just a tiny bit.
On towards the very first sentence of Soundless:
“MY SISTER IS IN TROUBLE, and I have only minutes to help her.” (p.1)
Well, that’s the kind of start I’m looking for! No mistakes yet, and diving right into the action, no?
“She doesn’t see it. She’s having difficulty seeing a lot of things lately, and that’s the problem.
Your brushstrokes are off, I sign to her. The lines are crooked, and you’ve misjudged some of the hues.
Zhang Jing steps back from her canvas. Surprise lights her features for only a moment before despair sets in. This isn’t the first time these mistakes have happened. A nagging instinct tells me it won’t be the last. I make a small gesture, urging her to hand me her brush and paints. She hesitates and glances around the workroom to make sure none of our peers is watching. They’re all deeply engrossed in their own canvases, spurred on by the knowledge that our masters will arrive at any moment to evaluate our work. Their sense of urgency is nearly palpable. I beckon again, more insistently this time, and Zhang Jing yields her tools, stepping away to let me work.” (p.1)
Oh. Nope. I guess it’s not exactly diving right into the action. And question, if you’re sister is going blind—if her vision is blurring right at the moment, how in the world is she able to read sign language clearly? Actually, I envisioned that Zhang Jing is not facing Fei, but rather, her canvas, so does she magically have eyes at the back of her head or are you sticking your hands in front of her face? Questions, questions.
Also, I spot two mistakes! Golly gee Wilikers, Richelle Mead has failed the basics of Chinese naming! How? Well, you see, it’s alluded in this chapter that Fei’s parents are superstitious miners. Thus, they wouldn’t have named their children ‘Fei’ and ‘Zhang Jing’ because that would be breaking the Chinese naming traditions. Honestly, even the least superstitious Chinese would still conform to the most basic of all Chinese naming traditions. The given names are usually two-character or one-character names, and within a family, the naming sticks to either one of forms only. Also, it’s incredibly common for siblings with two-character names to share one character in their given names as well. For example, ‘Li Ying’ is the name of an older sister, and ‘Li Xian’ is the name of the younger sister. Therefore, Fei’s name should’ve been ‘Zhang’ something or something ‘Jing’, or Zhang Jing should’ve gotten a one-character name as well.
The second mistake is a grammatical error in this line “…none of our peers is watching”. “…[N]one of our peers is watching”. Really? Shouldn’t it be ‘are’ and not ‘is’?
Moving on, we get to read a bit more about Fei’s situation—her duties as an apprentice, and also the village she and her sister resides in. Now, since I’m picturing the setting of Soundless as Ancient China…I have a greater number of problems with this book, urk.
You see, I don’t believe that the girls will have ever have the chance of even being apprentices in Ancient China. Females were (still are?) considered inferior to males. They don’t get educated, their work centres on their home. In fact, Confucius taught that the role of a woman is to look after the men in their families. He believed that women should not have their own ambitions, that her life must centre on her home, and that her greatest duty is to have a son. (He did also say that a woman’s role as a mother and a mother-in-law should be respected, though.) In fact, in modern-day China, a woman in her late twenties or older and who has yet to have married is classified as a shengnu, meaning “leftover woman”. Additionally, China has a history of female infanticide spanning 2000 years. Considering all of this, I think Fei’s parents would’ve had her and her sister killed when they were newborns or married them off to males of higher social statues as soon as they could.
“A woman I recognize as the head cook has emerged from the door, a boy scurrying in front of her. Cook is an extravagant term for her job, since there’s so little food and not much to be done with it. She also oversees running the Peacock Court’s Servants.” (p.7)
From here, we read about a servant boy being demoted from his job and sent to the mines. Now, I can understand why miners have lower social standings compared to artists and suppliers. The latter two are considered ‘people of trade’—merchants and even in the history of Malaysia, merchants are considered middle class. However, I cannot accept that “balance” is more important than family (p.9). From what I’ve stated in the earlier paragraph, I cannot accept that a boy (even if he has stolen) can be demoted to job belonging to a lower social class. Confucius also taught the important of xiao, filial piety which in other words means that the attitude of obedience, devotion, and care toward one’s parents and elder family members that is the basis of individual moral conduct and social harmony. Hearing that the boy has stolen for the sake of his family, the cook (a female) should’ve understood and forgiven him. The boy should’ve been given another chance.
(Also, “Peacock Court”, are you pulling my leg here, Mead? You can give Chinese names to people, to “Beiguo” even but not a simple building? Did Google Translate fail you here? Hmm.)
“Most of the girls around here would also agree he’s the most attractive boy in the school, but he’s never had much of an effect on me.
I hope that changes soon, as we are expected to marry someday.” (p.9)
Oh, no! The Special Snowflake Syndrome is beginning to show even more! Not only is Fei an incredibly talented artist who’s favored by her mentor, she’s also 99% unaffected by a handsome male who captures the eyes of 80% of the girls! And, what’s this? She’s in an arranged marriage with that male? Wow! I have to wonder, did Mead recycle this basic plot/did a near copy-and-paste with The Glittering Court? Questions, questions.
“I watch as a supplier comes by and puts half a bun in each beggar’s bowl.” (p.11)
I’m sorry but buns?! Wheat is not native in China. In fact, the Ancient Chinese did not bake bread even as late as 1200 AD. Saying that hard leftover rice got given to the beggars is even more plausible because rice is the staple of Chinese food. Hell, saying that wild millet and sorghum (Mainland Northern Chinese gathered these as they couldn’t grow rice) was given to them would be more plausible as well!
Gods, I’m moving along.
“One of their most popular stories is that our ancestors lost their hearing when magical creatures called pixius went into a deep slumber and wanted silence on the mountain.” (p.12)
Okay, I recall some sales pitch line thing that said that this book is “[a] breathtaking new fantasy steeped in Chinese folklore” and dear Gods, this is hilarious. This mistake has to be the best thing about this book so far. Why?
“[M]agical creatures called pixius” do not exist in Chinese mythology. We have píxiū (works as both a singular and plural noun) which is also known as piyao or bìxié. It’s a mythical creature that is considered as auspicious due to it’s ability to draw wealth. There are two types of píxiū: one known as tianlu, preventer of wealth flowing away; the other is piya who wards off evil. There is no way that such creatures, held in high regard by believers of fengshui as a powerful protector, will ever “[enter] a deep slumber and [want] silence on the mountain”.
At the end of this first chapter, I’m already certain that Soundless will be one of the worst books I’ll ever read. It’ll be a complete waste of my time to read this seriously, so I guess I’ll only be looking for entertainment value after this. Maybe.
Have you read this book already? What are your thoughts about it? I’d love to know!