Some links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you click the link, I receive a small benefit without any additional cost to you.
Book: SILENCE by Michelle Sagara
Genre: YA paranormal
Series: Queen of the Dead series book 1
USA Release Date: Currently available
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Highly recommended, particularly for people who love ghost stories, strong friendships, and human-shaped monsters.
“It began in the graveyard… ”
Ever since her boyfriend Nathan had died in a tragic accident, Emma had been coming to the graveyard at night. During the day she went through the motions at her prep school, in class, with her friends, but that’s all it was. For Emma, life had stopped with Nathan’s death. But tonight was different. Tonight Emma and her dog were not alone in the cemetery. There were two others there–Eric, who had just started at her school, and an ancient woman who looked as though she were made of rags. And when they saw Emma there, the old woman reached out to her with a grip as chilling as death….
Emma was not quite like others teenagers. It was true that other girls had experienced grief. Other girls had also lost their fathers, or had their boyfriends die in a senseless accident. But though she hadn’t known it till that night in the graveyard, unlike those other girls, she could see, touch, and speak with the dead. In fact, Emma could draw upon the essence of the dead to work magic. That was what Necromancers did. But Emma had no desire to be a Necromancer. She just wanted to help the ghosts who walked the streets of Toronto, unable to escape from the land of the living. And that was just as well, because had she chosen the path of the Necromancer, Eric would have had to kill her.
Instead, Eric and his fellow Necromancer hunter Chase found themselves violating every rule they were sworn to follow, becoming part of Emma’s group, helping her to stand against those who preyed upon the dead. But whether Emma and her friends could survive such a battle was anyone’s guess. And whether Emma could learn to use the magic of the dead against her enemies without herself falling victim to the lure of such power remained to be seen. Eric seemed to think she could, and her living friends would never abandon her. But only time would tell what Emma’s true destiny was….
Our main character, Emma, spends part of her nights walking her dog Petal (a delightfully sweet and funny Rottweiler) to the cemetery so she can sit in silence by her boyfriend’s grave. The night the book opens, Emma actually sees someone she knows, new boy Eric.
Eric isn’t alone; he’s with an old woman who gives Emma the lantern she carries, along with a disturbing kiss, after she realizes Emma can see her. This unwelcome touch brings unfortunate side effects: excruciating headaches, lots of nausea, and, suddenly, Emma can see and hear things no one else can.
At the heart of it, this is a pretty straightforward story: Emma can see the dead, talk to them, use them to gain power. She’s tempted by the power, mostly because she sees the ways she could use it to do good, to help the ghosts, to solve the mystery surrounding what happens to them after they die.
There are other people like her in the world, necromancers who have no qualms about taking the power for their own needs, and Eric, his pseudo-brother Chase, and the old man who trains them (plus others) hunt down necromancers and kill them.
Emma is an excellent main character and narrator. She’s loving, loyal to family and friends, and driven by her desire to do good in the world. I particularly love her friendships; this is no lone girl, different from all the other girls (ignore that bit in the description). She is different than most people because she sees ghosts, but she participates in her life, even as she mourns her father and her boyfriend. She is close with her mother, she has dear friends, and those two things are such a nice change. Female friendships forever.
Also wonderful is the lack of a love triangle, which can be done well, but so often isn’t. Here, Emma is still in love with her boyfriend, and so desperately mourning him, there is no real room in her life for a new romance. It’s not that she’ll never love again, but it would have weakened the story for her to start out mourning him, and then immediately enter into a love triangle with Eric and Chase. The way the guys are introduced could lead to that, and I braced myself, but was happily surprised when it didn’t happen. Emma convinces the boys not to kill her not because they’re flirting with her, but because of how much she loves her friends, her family, and how much she tries to do good for the ghosts.
For the most part, I enjoyed the Sagara’s writing style, but there were a couple times that the narrative became far too talky in the middle of an action scene, including one of the last big scenes at the climax. That’s not the time I should be flipping ahead, hoping for something to happen, but that’s what I did.
Emma’s group of friends are pretty wonderful (I particularly love her best friend, Allison, who is smart and funny and sweet, and the token mean girl who is actually friendly and loyal and snarky), but there are some issues surrounding Michael, who is autistic. I’m neurotypical, and would be speaking from a place of privilege, so I’m going to link instead to Ada Hoffman’s review at Disability in Kidlit, which hits the things that pinged for me, and then goes into more depth with them: Ada Hoffman’s review of SILENCE.
This is where a lot of my misgivings about the book come from, and is complicated to talk about. I don’t want to suggest that it is somehow bad or undesirable to provide clueful help to a disabled person. Yet I think a lot of us with disabilities will feel a familiar wince at the idea of being a charity case – of being valuable, not for ourselves, but so that someone else can earn goodness points by helping us.
I really love Michael’s character, particularly the way he is with child ghosts (oh, man, could be creepy because CHILD GHOSTS, ends up surprisingly sweet), but Hoffman has an excellent discussion of his purpose in the story.
In the end, I really enjoyed SILENCE, loved the characters, and immediately purchased the next book in the series. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and to explore more of this delightfully developed world.