JOINT REVIEW: Silver Silence by Nalini Singh
This is the fifth (!) book in the Psy-Changeling* series that Janine and I have reviewed together. One more and I think we get a set of steak knives. – Jennie
Jennie: * Technically, Silver Silence is the first book in the new Psy-Changeling Trinity series, but I didn’t note much difference between this book and the previous books in the original Psy-Changeling series. Some new characters, yes, but a lot of familiar faces and conflicts, and the structure and tone were the same as in the previous series.
Anyway, on to our story. It opens with Silver Mercant, familiar from previous books as Kaleb Krychek’s ultra-efficient second-in-command, opening the door of her Moscow apartment to Valentin Nikolaev, alpha of the StoneWater Bear pack. This is not the first time Valentin has gotten into her apartment building by mysterious means, ostensibly to conduct business but clearly also to flirt. Except Silver doesn’t flirt. She is Silent, and she’s a Mercant, meaning she’s pretty much perfect and precise in her every thought and action. If there is some vague stirring of emotion deep inside her when Valentin comes around, she does an excellent job of hiding it.
Valentin is pretty much the opposite of Silver – charming, playful, and in spite of his alpha ruthlessness (and some secret, pack-related sorrow), a happy-go-lucky guy. Still, he’s drawn to Silver, whom he suspects of harboring a “secret fire.”
Their brief encounter (playful on Valentin’s part; irritated, if irritation didn’t break Silence protocols, on Silver’s) is interrupted when Silver falls to the floor and convulses. Valentin immediately summons help, and then uses his extra-keen bear sense of smell to confirm what he already suspects – she’s been poisoned.
Thanks to Valentin’s quick actions and the work of the Psy doctors summoned by Kaleb Krychek and Silver’s grandmother Ena Mercant, Silver recovers from the poisoning. But while she is being worked on, Valentin and Ena come up with a plan to safeguard Silver until her attacker is unmasked: she will travel to the StoneWater den under the conceit that she’s working to strengthen Psy-Changeling bonds, particularly as StoneWater is the controlling Changeling presence in the area.
Silver is the director of the worldwide Emergency Response Network, otherwise known as EmNet. EmNet is tasked with coordinating disaster response under the authority of the Trinity Accord, the fledgling organization of humans, Psy and Changelings trying to build a new and more equitable world for all three groups. As such, she’s a visible target for those who don’t want the Trinity Accord to succeed. The reader is given the perspective of one such person, an unnamed human who hates and distrusts the Psy. But Silver and her grandmother also suspect that a Mercant had a hand in the poisoning, because no one else would’ve had access to Silver’s food supply.
The only Mercants Silver can continue to trust are her grandmother, the matriarch of the tight-knit Mercant family, and her brother Arwen. Arwen (his name put me off – isn’t that the name of one of the elves in Lord of the Rings?) and Silver have always had a special bond, which seems odd to say given that all of the Mercants were Silent before the recent change in Psy protocol that allows Psy to choose for themselves if they want to maintain Silence or not. But the fact is that throughout the series there have been Psy who, while technically Silent, have had emotional connections with each other.
This is one of those aspects of the series that I’m unclear on – is it the author’s intention to show that following Psy protocols completely is impossible? Or are we supposed to believe that certain Psy are “perfectly Silent” even when that doesn’t seem to be the case?
Janine: My reading is that the only Psy we are meant to believe are truly perfectly Silent are the cold killers and the sociopaths. The Psy protagonists in these books have flaws in their Silence, but many conceal those flaws so well that they fool most people—and in some cases, even themselves. Silver might be one of the latter; I got the impression that she was influenced by the empathic Arwen’s presence in her family in ways she did not always acknowledge.
Jennie: You’re absolutely right – Silver might easily be more perfectly Silent without Arwen. Her other close connection is Ena, her grandmother, but Ena is a much better at presenting a facsimile of Silence than Arwen is, I think.
Anyway, Silver has a mysterious reason, frequently referenced but not spelled out, for feeling that giving up Silence isn’t for her. At one point she tells Valentin that she has a mutation in a genome that makes breaking Silence dangerous for her. It feels like something we’ve heard before; someone else will no doubt remember what books/characters had similar conflicts in regard to breaking Silence.
Janine: Judd is the one who immediately comes to my mind. He could not break Silence for fear that he would lash out at people with his telekinesis and harm or even kill them unintentionally. I’m pretty sure Faith had to stay Silent too, but I’m fuzzier on her story.
Jennie: I knew you would remember at least one example!
Silver settles in at the StoneWater den and is able to view up close, for the first time, a very different way of living. The closeness, the nosiness, the physical affection are all, obviously, alien to her. Meanwhile, Valentin is continuing his courting of Silver and it’s beginning to work. Despite her super sekret reason for not wanting to break Silence, she begins to consider engaging in a physical relationship with Valentin so that she knows what she’s giving up by maintaining her current lifestyle. Valentin wants more, of course (he’s definitely one of those heroes that are all in from page one), but he’s willing to be patient (sort of).
So, there are a few plotlines going on here: one, obviously, is the shadowy, seemingly human-driven entity that wants to disrupt EmNet and the Trinity Accord, both by poisoning Silver and later by terrorist acts targeted mostly at humans. Then there is Valentin’s grief and an impending decision he needs to make about the division in his clan, one that apparently occurred when he took over from the previous alpha. There’s Silver’s own struggle to maintain Silence and resist Valentin’s charms, all while dealing with a potential traitor in her own family. Then there’s the actual romance running through it all, as Valentin and Silver are thrown together and learn more about each other, and as lust and intrigue deepen to love and respect.
As I stated early in this review, none of this is structurally or thematically different, IMO, from the first 15 Psy-Changeling books; the only difference is that we’re supposedly in a “post-Silence”/Trinity Accord world now. I suppose the introduction of a new changeling group, the bears, could also qualify as a change of sorts.
The bears are a little different from the leopards and wolves we’re familiar with from the earlier books. Their personalities seem to be generally more light-hearted and playful (they have a reputation for raising hell in the Moscow bars). As someone who has never been that into the “animal” aspect of the Changelings, I didn’t care *that* much, but there is something viscerally less romantic, I think, about bears. I think of them as shambling rather than sleek (I guess while leopards are sleek, wolves aren’t really. But come on, wolves are cool). After a while I stopped being concerned with that aspect of the story, though. It helped that we didn’t spend a huge amount of time with Valentin in bear form.
Janine: I just could not get into the bear thing, and it didn’t help that Valentin was said not to lumber, or that he and his sister were described as having grace, because trying to picture a graceful bear just brought up the image of the bear from the Charmin toilet paper commercial. Along similar lines, when, during a love scene, Valentin spoke of Silver’s pussy “glistening with your honey,” my mind called up Disney Winnie the Pooh imagery, which wasn’t conducive to a sexy mood.
(Incidentally, the word “pussy” jarred me too. I expect it and have no problem with it in erotic romances, but I think it’s new to the Psy/Changeling books.)
Jennie: Ha, I think I stopped on “pussy” too – I wasn’t consciously aware that it was on the graphic side for Singh, but it did give me pause (not “paws” – the ursine humor just keeps coming). I didn’t even notice the “honey” mention but it seems unfortunate in this context.
Janine: In addition to mentally tripping up over pop culture bear iconography, I was disappointed that the bear changelings were so similar to the leopards and wolves in their characteristics—warm, loving, close-knit and fierce defenders of those they loved. I would have preferred that this book deal with the loner ocean changelings of BlackSea. That would have felt like something truly new, rather than a surface change.
Jennie: I’m afraid that even the BlackSea members would get the same treatment if they were to get their own full-length book. Singh has developed such an iconography around the Changelings; I’ve complained about it at length before. They are imbued almost entirely with positive traits, and a lot of their representation is tied up in how cute the little ones are and how protective and flawless the adults are in their treatment of the babies and children.
I mean, she could prove me wrong, and represent BlackSea differently, but it doesn’t surprise me that the bears are familiar, because the leopards and wolves have always been very, very similar to each other.
There were developments fairly late in the book that engaged me more than the first 3/4ths or so; the earlier part felt familiar to anyone who’s read the series, especially the books that feature a Psy-Changeling pairing.
Janine: I was frustrated and frankly, bored with the first 70% of the novel because the plot revolved around three tropes that have already gotten a lot of play in the series, from the Psy heroine who discovers the warmth, love and emotion of changeling life (Sascha in Slave to Sensation, Zaira in Shards of Hope) to the Psy character who must, at all costs, remain Silent (Faith in Visions of Heat, Judd in Caressed by Ice), to the character facing the possibility of impending death (Sascha in Slave to Sensation, Katya in Blaze of Memory, Vasic in Shield of Winter).
Don’t Psy have any other problems in their lives? I feel ready for some romance tropes we have not yet seen in this series such as a friends-to-lovers story in a Psy or changeling setting, a secret baby kept hidden because of his/ her Psy abilities, or a marriage of convenience story. Heck, I would even take a fake romantic relationship which is one of my least favorite tropes.
Jennie: Ooh, a marriage of convenience would be interesting! Maybe between two Psy?
Janine: The main thing that saved this book, to the degree that it was saved, was that the last thirty percent of it did introduce a brand new trope I have not seen used in this series—or elsewhere in the genre, for that matter.
Jennie: Without going into spoilery detail, Valentin and Silver’s relationship is basically reset and I found the action in the last quarter poignant, engaging and romantic.
Janine: I’ll go into BIG spoilers, but hide them:
Spoiler (“spoiler”): Show
I agree that this last section was far more engaging than the first three-quarters. It felt fresh and different in a good way and provided the story with a satisfying conclusion, but for me, that felt like too little, too late.
I don’t often restructure novels in my imagination as I read them, but in this case, I found myself wishing that this book had been structured differently, beginning with this last section and then telling the earlier part of the story in flashbacks interspersed between Silver and Valentin’s dates, because doing so might have lent the first 70%, which was so familiar and tired, that same poignancy and high emotional stakes that the final third had.
Jennie: That would’ve been interesting. I think I was just glad that the good part was at the end, though, because it left me finishing the book with a happy feeling.
I was pondering why I think I liked this book better than I have many of the other books in the series, and I think a big factor is that Silver felt more like an equal than the heroines in many of the Psy-Changeling books. I have often complained that the books give lip service to heroines being “badass” or challenging to the hero’s dominance. But inevitably it’s made clear that he’s really in charge, and that he’s stronger, faster, more dominant, etc. In Silver Silence I felt like Valentin really did admire Silver’s strength, and they were actually pretty evenly matched. I liked that a lot.
Janine: Yes. I’ll agree with that. I got a little weary of the oft-repeated “Silver. Fucking. Mercant.” meme, but your point stands. Silver has always been a badass and I’ve loved that about her since she was first introduced as Kaleb Krychek’s assistant a dozen or so books ago.
I’ve been waiting a long time for her to get a book worthy of her and for me, this was not that book. I liked Valentin and I agree he was a good match for her, but in addition my main issue (tired tropes in the first two-thirds), I also felt that the external suspense plot involving the attacks on EmNet and Trinity lacked freshness and suspense. I was never truly scared for Silver’s safety or that of the Trinity accord.
Jennie: Fair, and I feel like terrorist attacks have been a central theme for a while now (am I remembering right?). I don’t like the overreliance on them, and it hits a little too close to home these days.
Janine: Yeah. I could not help but compare this book to Slave to Sensation, the novel that began the previous arc and the Psy-Changeling series itself. Maybe that comparison is unfair, since the series was completely new and it’s impossible to compete with the freshness of that. Slave to Sensation was not a perfect book and I had some issues with it, but at the time, Lucas, Sascha and their allies were underdogs fighting the all-powerful Psy Council, so the threat to them felt real.
Here, so many powerful people and groups have now signed on to the Trinity accord that the accord does not feel truly vulnerable. If anything, it is actually Trinity’s shadowy enemies who are the underdogs in this conflict, and their defeat feels like a foregone conclusion. That doesn’t give me much reason to keep turning the pages.
Jennie: If I were to have a quibble (I always have quibbles!) I would say that for a book set in Moscow and featuring ostensibly Russian characters (well, I’m not clear if Silver is supposed to be Russian, since she doesn’t have a Russian name, but she’s based in Moscow, and Valentin definitely is), the setting and characters didn’t feel very Russian to me. There were Russian words thrown in here and there, but I never got the sense of a different culture, with different worldviews and history and foods. I guess one could argue that in the Psy-Changeling world, Russia isn’t “Russian” the way it is here, but I was disappointed not to get some local flavor out of the setting.
Overall, though, a book that started off for me being another B-/C+ (or so) Psy-Changeling book was really elevated by the last quarter. I am giving it a B+.
Janine: Usually I grade Singh’s books a bit higher than you do, but in this case, it appears we are reversing positions. The first two-thirds were a C- for me, and the last quarter, a B. And since the later section was considerably shorter, I have to give the earlier one more weight. It’s a C for me.