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Children's Literacy Round-Up: May 4

Dreamdark: Silksinger: Laini Taylor

Book: Dreamdark, Book 2: Silksinger
Author: Laini Taylor (blog)
Pages: 464
Age Range: 10 and up 

SilksingerBackground: In the interest of full disclosure, I bring yet another review in which I know and like the author. I met Laini Taylor briefly at the first Kidlitosphere conference in Chicago. I reviewed her first Dreamdark novel shortly thereafter (and I loved it!).

Laini&jen Then Laini was one of the organizers (with Jone MacCulloch) of the second Kidlitosphere conference in Portland. And not only did I work with Laini on scheduling a Cybils session at the conference, but I held a blogger/author discussion session with her (in which we discussed things like etiquette for requesting reviews, etc). Plus I spent some lovely time chatting with her at the Readergirlz party that night. So, ok, Laini is a friend. Take that under advisement as you read my review. But recall that when I reviewed Blackbringer (the first Dreamdark book), I scarcely knew Laini at all, and it was one of my favorite reads of 2007. On to the book!

Review: Silksinger is the second book in Laini Taylor's Dreamdark series, following Blackbringer. Silksinger picks up shortly after the first book left off, with faerie Magpie Windwitch, newly minted Djiin champion, on a quest with her crew to find the other long-hidden fire elementals. They need the elementals to save the world from falling into chaos. The reader soon learns that one of these lost elementals, the Azazel, is under the protection of a new character, a fragile young faerie named Whisper Silksinger. Another new character, a faerie named Hirik, is on a quest of his own. Hirik seeks to find the Azazel, and become its champion. The stories of Magpie, Whisper, and Hirik are told in alternating, and eventually intersecting, chapters.

Taylor weaves together the various strands of plot brilliantly, using the viewpoint shifts to create additional tension. I read quickly, because I was concerned about what would happen to characters I cared about from their first appearances. I was tense, worried, and not knowing what was going to happen (and I'm a tough person to surprise, in general). At more than one point, I was devastated by things that happened to the characters. Yet I also stopped often to flag passages that were beautifully written, or that gave particular insight into the characters. Here are a couple of examples:

"What would she do? She couldn't go home--the devils had found them there. Where could she go? She knew nothing of the world beyond her island. She couldn't fly, and she was no warrior--she had no weapon, and she wasn't even brave... Whisper knelt on the beach, pale and trembling, shoulders torn and bleeding. She hugged the warm kettle close, but it did no good. She was alone now, and she was as cold as a pit of ash after a fire has burned out." (Page 9, ARC).

"This was Hirik's first journey as a mercenary, and his first time away from his own forest. Zingaro had taken him onto his crew just a week ago at the remote outpost of Fishsplash, but only after raking him up and down with a critical eye. He'd declared him "a scrunty job of runtmeat," though he was tall for his age, and "about as fearsome as a biddy with a butter knife," though he wielded a scimitar far finer than any of the other murks' weapons. And it was true Hirik was only a lad without real battle experience, but after plenty of grunting and grousing, Zingaro agreed to give him a trial." (Page 65, ARC)

"Upcliff, the palaces of the noble clans clung to sheer vertical rock face one above another, like stacks of iced cakes. Below, the rest of the city cascaded down a sweep of stair-step tiers, making a pleasing pattern of rooftops and pavilions edged by wild orchid forests, with silver threads of waterfalls stitching them all together." (Page 212, ARC)

Without giving too much away, I thought that the special talents possessed by both Hirik and Whisper were engaging and inventive. Their vulnerabilities and their strengths loom large - making them immediately memorable. All of the characters in the book are fully rounded, and the interactions between them feel realistic. Magpie and her companion, Talon, dance around having a relationship, with Talon finding himself fiercely jealous of a faerie who pops up from Magpie's past. There's a nice, tween feel to their relationship - a boy and a girl who like each other, but are too young to admit it, and torment each other instead. I also loved Magpie's relationship with her crow "brothers", teasing and affectionate and as real as any family relationship between people. But with more entertaining dialog. For example:

""Slave?" hooted Calypso. "Slaves work, ye mad miscreant, so clamp yer moanhole. All ye do is point that twitchy finger of yers, eat all our food, and fart up yer caravan!"

Magpie pressed her lips together to keep from laughing." (Page 23, ARC)

The mix of informal, colorful dialog ("ye mad miscreant") and lyrical description ("silver threads of waterfalls") gives Silksinger's prose a distinct texture. Silksinger also features gorgeous occasional illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo (Laini's husband). (The illustrations aren't all included in the ARC, and I'll want to take a look at the finished copy to see more.) Jim brings the characters to life, through delicately shaded black and white images. I especially enjoyed a picture of Slomby (a pathetic yet sympathetic creature who also has occasional viewpoint chapters).

Fans of the first Dreamdark book, Blackbringer, will not be disappointed by Silksinger. In truth, I was a bit worried when I first learned that much of Book 2 would feature different characters, because I enjoyed Magpie so much. I should have trusted Laini. Whisper and Hirik are both delightful, and their differences from Magpie and Talon make Silksinger an even better, more nuanced, book than the first.

While fans of the first book certainly won't want to miss Silksinger, I would also recommend the Dreamdark books to people who aren't ordinarily fans of fantasy. Silksinger is beautifully written, suspenseful, heartbreaking, ingenious, and funny. In short, this book has it all. On closing the book, I felt utterly satisfied, like someone who had just finished an excellent meal. Silksinger has my highest recommendation.

Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: September 17, 2009
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher. Note that quotes are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final, printed book.
Other Blog Reviews: PRES Library. See also my review of Dreakdark, Book 1: Blackbringer, which links to many other reviews of that title. You really should start with the first book anyway, if you haven't read it. Updated to add: Betsy Bird has a lovely review of Silksinger at A Fuse #8 Production, with links to lots of other reviews and interviews.  
Author Interviews: Everead, Miss Erin, Squeetus (Shannon Hale)

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.