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[personal profile] attackfish
The good thing about needing to go to the (great big beautiful) main branch of the county library to get my tests proctored is that it drags me to the library. And yes, it does say a lot about my recent mental and emotional health that I have had to be dragged to the library. You might have noticed a dearth of book reviews around here lately. I apologize. Or I apologize for bringing them back, depending on whether or not you’re just here for the fic. It also says a lot about my mental and emotional health lately that I haven’t read Sarah Rees Brennan’s two most recent solo endeavors until now.

Kami Glass has had a voice in her head since before she can remember, like an imaginary friend that she just never grew out of. Now that she’s in high school, this makes her more than a little weird, but she has other things to think about, like starting up the school newspaper she has christened the Nosy Parker, or trying to find some kind of dark and delicious secret in Sorry-in-the-Vale, the small English village where she has lived all her life. But when the Lynburns, the old leading family of Sorry-in-the-Vale come back, and Kami's imaginary friend isn’t so imaginary anymore, the prospect of a dark village secret stops being fun and starts being a deadly reality. And if Kami is to find the secret out before it finds her, all she has to go on are the people of Sorry-in-the-Vale, who aren’t talking, the Lynburns themselves, who definitely aren’t talking, and an eerie local children’s rhyme:

“Forest deep, silent bells
There's a secret no one tells
Valley quiet, water still
Lynburns watching on the hill
Apples red, corn gold
Almost everyone grows old”

Trigger warning (and it seems like everything I read lately needs one) for murder, animal cruelty, abusive families, and really f***ed up childhoods.

So it’s not exactly a secret that I love everything Sarah Rees Brennan writes, including the Harry Potter fic she used to write before getting published, which means this review is going to go something like this: I squee a whole bunch, then I offer some nominal analysis mostly comprised of squeeing, then I squee some more. If what you want out of this review is to know whether or not I liked the book, the answer is a resounding yes. Go read it.

Now that that’s over with, I will attempt to explain why I like Unspoken. I have a major soft spot for Gothic novels. The fact that I occasionally got to read things like Wuthering Heights in class was what made having to read Lord of the Flies bearable. And Kami is a wonderful heroine for a Gothic novel, both insatiably curious, and ready with a hilarious quip every step of the way. Most of all, she knows exactly how a Gothic mystery is supposed to work. She’s read them all. This is a heroine who tells the kid who lives in the creepy house on the hill that he should lock his annoying relatives in the attic, because “literary precedent” would be on his side. She’s also a heroine who is worried she’s going crazy, or that she has always been crazy, and she has good reason to be worried. She has few friends, and even fewer people who take her seriously.

Jared meanwhile is a classic Byronic hero, and despite the number of really godawful examples of Byronic heroes out there, I’m a sucker for Byronic heroes (I would love to see more Byronic heroines, actually, but I digress). He’s troubled but cute, and has a dark and troubled past, and I have a feeling most of his teachers would describe him as just generally troubled. He lives in a moldering old house with his family of ancient and proud lineage, and his mother keeps telling him he killed his father, even though the security tapes say otherwise. And like Kami, he hears a voice in his head, and has that persistent little worry that he might just be totally nuts, which given everything he’s dealing with, might not be that bad.

The nice thing is, Sarah Rees Brennan let’s us into both of their heads, far enough to see that their wisecracking, Kami’s boundless confidence and Jared’s tough guy persona are facades. Underneath, they’re clever, frightened kids, who remind me of myself and my friends in high school. They’re wonderful.

And on the note of facades, just like her characters, Sarah Rees Brennan is really good at the jokes, and pointing out when she uses a Gothic novel trope, and telling the reader, it’s okay, you can laugh, it’s not too serious here. She tricks the reader into thinking this is a fun little ride through the Gothic novel countryside. And once she has you good and invested in her wonderful, sparking characters, and thinking nothing too terrible is going to happen to them, she drops the hammer, and if you’re anything like me, by the end of the book, you’re curled up in a ball on your bed wondering why you read the book, because everything just hurts, and all these characters you like are in pain, and no, no, no, and where’s the next book?

Sarah Rees Brennan also does something with Kami and Jared that I find really refreshing in a Gothic Novel, especially a YA one. I’ve written previously about how in Paranormal Romance, a Gothic genre if ever there was, the heroine is nearly always human, and especially in YA, encountering the supernatural for the first time through her love interest, who conveniently knows all about the magical happenings suddenly going on around her. In Unspoken however, both Kami and Jared are connected to the town’s secret and the magical happenings going on around them, and both are equally ignorant about that secret, and what’s happening all around them. This means that Kami and Jared are on a much more equal footing than the heroines and heroes in most Gothic inspired YA fantasy coming out right now. Halle-freaking-lujah.

Unspoken does have some clumsy exposition in the beginning, and for readers who have read the Demon’s Lexicon trilogy, the Lynburn family can be disconcertingly familiar, but I really can’t bring myself to care. I love it.

I can’t believe it took me this long to read Unspoken. It’s amazing, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Sarah Rees Brennan can be found all over the internet, for example, as [ profile] sarahtales on livehournal, on tumblr at, and on her own website, If you like her books, I advise checking out her web presences. She likes to post short stories in the universes of her novels.


attackfish: Yshre girl wearing a kippah, text "Attackfish" (Default)

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