[tw: zoophilia mention, rape mention]
I mentioned in my review of The Stone Prince that I was a fan of Tanya Huff’s work in high school. Her books were some of the first books I read that had queer characters in them, but I’ve been finding, increasingly, that her latest works aren’t really doing anything for me. The Enchantment Emporium was okay but not great, I didn’t like the Smoke books at all. I think this is definitely the case of liking an author because of that one series and then nothing else they write seems to scratch that itch. Nothing else is like that series.
And The Silvered is about werewolves. As you probably also know, I’m not a huge fan of werewolves.
The Silvered is set in a world where ancient magic clashes with scientific advancements. In the Kingdom of Aydori, the people are protected by the Hunt Pack–werewolves–and the Mage pack, masters of six elemental forces: fire, water, earth, air, metals, and healing. When the emperor of the neighbouring Kresentian Empire receives a prophecy that indicates that an unborn child born of “mage and wild” will portent the rise or fall of his empire, he sends a squad of soldiers lead by Captain Sean Reiter to kidnap six pregnant women of the mage pack. After witnessing the kidnapping, failed university student Mirian Maylin heads for the border to alert the pack leader, only to be captured by Reiter. Escaping with the Pack Leader’s younger brother, Tomas, the two set off on a mission to rescue the captured mages with Reiter in hot pursuit.
I had to start and stop this review a few times because I was having trouble articulating stuff I liked and didn’t like about it. The world is interesting. It strikes me as very nineteenth century in a vaguely Slavic setting. The nation of Aydori is protected by the Pack, ambitious social climbers want their children to marry into the Pack. The Hunt Pack is assisted by the Mage-pack, magic users who are identified by the flecks of colour in their eyes. The empire, meanwhile, sees the Pack as mere beasts and Aydori social climbing as institutionalized zoophilia. I did find that there were some things about the world that could have used a little more explaining (particularly regarding how the Mage Pack actually works) but I don’t have any major complaints other than that the major religions aren’t anything you haven’t seen before.
I think the strong point of the novel is its characters. Mirian Maylin is the type of protagonist who dropped out of school and has few prospects who suddenly finds herself on a perilous journey. Tomas is trying to cope with the death of family and friends. Neither one of them really want to work together but they don’t have much of a choice. What I like is that, unlike other “reluctant companions” plots, Mirian and Tomas don’t spend every minute of every day insulting each other and trying to deal with unresolved sexual tension (although there is a bit of that, but not as much as you might think). Sure, they grumble a bit but they quickly figure out that they need each other and they need to work as a team. The other refreshing aspect of their relationship is that while Tomas does play the “grrrr I’m a mighty werewolf dominance” song and dance that is pretty much a must have for anything involving werewolves, Mirian’s reaction is to shut him down and force him to treat her like an equal (she also takes the opportunity to comment about romance novels that do a similar thing). I’ve read story after story where the werewolf does the aggressive dominance thing and the heroine just puts up with it that to actually have a character tell them point blank to knock it off is refreshing.
The story is also told from the perspective of Reiter and the captured women of the Mage-pack. Reiter’s perspective is nothing special, he’s the typical “my country right or wrong” good soldier type who doubts that what he’s doing is tight but, well, orders. The women of the Mage-pack are interesting but I don’t think they really had a lot of time or opportunities to develop as characters. There were a few standouts, like Stina subtly making her captors’ lives difficult and using every opportunity to swear in a language her captors don’t understand, but I honestly couldn’t keep them all straight half the time.
The major issue I had with the book was pacing and the fact that when all is said and done, it didn’t really seem like the epic fantasy that it set out to be. Mirian and Tomas make for the Empire, Reiter chases them, the Mage-pack sits on their asses in captivity (although they do take small steps in order to escape). What should be a race against the clock never really gets there. It seems to be missing a lot of tension that makes those kinds of plots interesting.
Something that was personally aggravating for me was how the book was so heteronormative. There’s one same-sex couple near the end of the book, but the Pack and Mage-pack are all heterosexual pairings. Tomas has a rather interesting relationship with Harry, his friend who died at the very beginning of the book, and by “interesting” I mean he spends most of the book mourning him, mistaking the heroine for him, and wishing he was around to fix everything, and yet somehow he’s still straight as a pin. Huff saying that all her characters are bisexual unless she says otherwise is no help, since the average reader will assume that any given character is straight until told otherwise. It just seems like such a wasted opportunity, especially since it’s not like she’s never written a series with a bisexual main character.
If you’ve read any of Huff’s other books this one is no different in terms of style. There’s a ton of repetition, and by the tenth or so time that you hear about gold earrings or how characters “lay with beasts” it’s gotten old. There’s so much repetition that it becomes a plot point.
Triggery things: there’s mention of rape and it’s abundantly clear what the emperor means by wanting to “breed” the captive Mage-pack. The Empire dehumanizes the Pack and considers them little more than animals, so there’s also a ton of snide remarks about how the Aydori “lay with beasts”. Reiter tells off a soldier who sexually harasses Mirian.
Overall, I liked the take on werewolves that wasn’t just all “grrrr dominance” but in the end nothing about the book has me chomping at the bit for a sequel (thankfully, the story is self-contained with the possibility of a sequel). The Silvered just isn’t the Blood books.