What a wonderful way to kick off the new year! I’ve been itching to get my hands on Richelle Mead’s novel Soundless for some time now, and, on impulse, I bought it at WalMart. Best $17 I’ve ever spent! From the very first page, I was captivated. More importantly, and this brings me to the point of this post, it captivated my roleplay characters. I’ve never had so many respond to the same thing at once – not like this, and certainly not to a book I was reading.
I’ll pause here to say two things first. One: the following will contain spoilers or quotes. If you’re like me and hate that sort of thing, read no further than the following paragraph. However, keep this post in mind after you’ve read the book – or even as you’re reading along with it. It’ll make what I say later on more meaningful.
Two: if you are a writer or roleplayer – or possibly an artist as well – it will come as little surprise to you that I always say my characters thought this or said that in response to what’s going on in my life. I admit, when I first heard a fellow roleplayer say this, I was a bit put-off and confused, and my family – none of whom are writers or roleplayers – apparently feel the same way when I mention things like this. If you understand, great! You’ll probably enjoy this post. If you don’t understand, then play along and know it is a thing.
Alright, from here on out, I’m talking about the novel and how my characters so loudly and immediately responded to various parts as I read. Remember, if you want no spoilers, close this page and return to it another time.
Before I begin, I’d like to introduce you to some of my characters – all the ones you’ll be hearing from throughout this post.
First and foremost is Na Min Su. He’s the only deaf character I currently have. He’s a writer and an observer, and he loves anything that leaves him thinking. If you’ve read anything about Soundless, then you’ll see why he is the primary voice I heard from during the four days I read the novel.
The second character to make himself known from page 15 and on was my boy Ruan Li Wei. He’s a top model in Korea. When he was seven, he and his mother moved to Seoul from Beijing so she could start a new life with the man who became Li Wei’s step father. Li’s confident to the extreme, wants what he wants and stops at nothing to get it. If you’ve read the novel or are just now at page 15, then you see why he’s present in this conversation.
Third, I introduce you to a man who made a single comment at page 25. Jhang Jung Su – SJ for short – is a calm, level-headed former Seoul-based gang leader. He is dating a woman from Hong Kong, and they have a kitten she adopted named Bao. Are you at page 25? You get it now, don’t you?
Somewhere between page 150 and 200, I had my boy Chen Xiao Si awaken. He made no comment other than he wanted some sort of roleplay release (which I did not give him because I was reading). I think he awoke because more action was happening, and he’s a guy who is drawn to action – be it a night at a club or a fight in broad daylight. More than that, though, I think the book’s setting prodded him awake. He’s from China, though he is currently residing in Seoul with a friend he thought was missing at best and dead at worst. I won’t make any specific mention of Xiao Si in the rest of this post because he has no specific place he entered with any comment. Just know that he was a very present presence for the last half of the novel.
Finally – (I know. Five characters, right? So many!) – I introduce you to my boy Takeuchi Yuusei. He’s from a futuristic world that has no relevance to the story Soundless. The only thing that drew him out were the references to heights, of which he is deathly afraid, though he didn’t actually make his presence known until pages 187-188. If you’ve read the book but forgot what was there, flip back. Of all the high locations mentioned, that part of the story got to him the most. I’m surprised he didn’t pass out on me.
Now comes the part I know one or two of you were waiting for. I’m going to go through the book bit by bit and list how characters reacted and to which parts. Some will be more descriptive, and others will contain quotes, while some will be simple nods of the head to a feeling mentioned before. Spoiler haters, this is the final warning: get out now!
Page 1: The first instance of dialogue we see is italicized, with a mention of signing. Min Su (Min for short) flipped out, flailed a little in excitement, and as quickly as he could signed, “Signing!!”
Page 2: The description of the village sends Min scrambling to convey his feelings again – “A village entirely without hearing! Fears of going blind!” He can relate to the terror that invokes. He’s used to a world without sound, but one without vision as well?
Page 15: We’re introduced to Li Wei. If you guessed that my Li Wei (Li for short now) chimed in, you’d be correct. “Hey, another Li Wei. Neat. He’s so awesome. Look at the author, trying to emulate me.”
Page 20: Min Su – “Oh, a girl named Min. Neat.”
Page 25: We’re introduced to Li Wei’s father, Bao. As calm as ever, SJ commented, “Bao, huh? Like my girlfriend’s cat.” And he was heard from no more.
Page 34 and on: Fei gains hearing, and her descriptions of experiencing sound for the first time hit Min Su in the face. He’s imagined this time and time again, but now it’s like he’s rediscovering anew this curiosity about hearing and a desire to experience it . “Is that really what hearing would be like? I wanna know! I don’t wanna stop being deaf, but I wanna try hearing once!”
Page 36: Then suddenly Min Su’s emotional world comes crashing down. He’s read descriptions of chaotic sounds before, and he’s often wondered how hearing people manage sometimes, even being used to hearing as they are. But he’s never read it from the perspective of someone who used to be deaf, and that changes things entirely. A primal fear consumes him, and as he curls into himself, tears brim in his eyes. The outside world terrifies him like it hasn’t in years. “Too many sound descriptions! I’m overwhelmed! I don’t think I want this.”
Page 43: And now a quote from the novel: “I wish I was writing some great wisdom, some understanding of why this great tragedy is happening to us. But there is none.
I pause, contemplating her words. Throughout my life, the loss of our people’s hearing has always been referred to as a tragedy, but I’ve never really seen it that way. I haven’t really thought much about it at all since it’s hard to miss something you’ve never known.”
Min Su understands completely. The tragedy for them (and him) would be to lose sight, so that’s what he has to continually use to put this into perspective.
Page 41: Sound descriptions fascinate Min Su. “Is that really what it’s like? I can almost imagine it.” All his life he’s had moments where he thought he glimpsed understanding into a certain sound, but Richelle Mead has put more sounds into understandable words than he’s ever encountered in a single instance.
Page 50: Another quote: “My head hurts, too, as I’ve had to contend with a barrage of new sounds all morning.”
Min can only imagine what that must feel like. After the overwhelming descriptions before, he doesn’t have to imagine as hard as he might have normally.
Page 54: The next quote is an entire paragraph. Min wants to know what the sound is like, but more than that, he wants to experience the same sense of awe that Fei experiences.
“Li Wei slams his fist against the muddy ground and lets out another cry of frustration. Again, I am awed, overwhelmed by the strength and emotion conveyed in the human voice. For the first time since this phenomenon started happening to me, I begin to understand the power it could have and why our ancestors mourned its loss. Every sound around me—the renewed pattering of rain, the wind in the leaves—all of it suddenly has a new meaning. I can see how the sounds don’t interfere with the world so much as enhance it. The scope and potential are huge. It’s like having a new color to paint with.”
Page 65: Min can relate to the following quote. There are so many things he does or that occur in the world around him that he doesn’t know make sounds until someone points it out to him.
“My eyes widen as I realize that monstrous noise was caused by a gesture I’d seen countless times at funerals and other rituals. I never realized that noise was the end result.”
Page 118: Another quote: “Then something truly remarkable happens: Sound comes from his lips. It’s not a scream, not laughter. It’s like nothing I’ve yet encountered in my brief experience with hearing, a series of rapid sounds of different lengths and shapes. I realize, with a start, that I must be hearing human speech for the first time. Only, I have no idea what it means. And I certainly have no idea how to make it in return.”
Min can imagine this vividly. He compares it to coming across another sign language for the first time, and right when you least expected it, too.
Page 124: Again, Min can easily imagine how overwhelming this must be, and he wonders the same thing as Fei in this next quote.
“I wonder how long it takes to learn speech like that. I’m already swimming in more sounds and stimuli than I can keep track of. In fact, the mixture of so many different noises coming from so many different people is starting to make my head hurt again.”
Page 128: This quote is how Min always first imagines what it’s like to be in a busy place and be able to hear, especially when someone hasn’t heard before.
“The clash of sounds I hear outside…is nothing compared to the noise level inside, with so many people giving voice to their thoughts. I wonder how they make any sense of it. It’s all meaningless chatter to me, grating in its excess.”
Page 130: This page has two different moments that Min responded to. The first was one of wonder and happiness – when Fei things she hears singing for the first time. The second, however, brings his mood down a dozen stories as a woman’s reaction to signing brings about nervousness and dismissal. Min’s faced enough of that in his life. He doesn’t need to imagine it one bit.
Page 137: After meeting with a woman who isn’t afraid of them, Fei learns that there’s a variation of their sign language that the woman knows, and the woman muses aloud about language variations – where the languages came from and when they diverged. It brought out the intellect in Min. He also adores the woman because she’s hearing but has taken an interest in other languages – and in sign in particular. She’s a friend, someone who sympathizes with their plight. In many ways, she reminds him of his girlfriend, Emi, who is hearing and is not only learning Korean but also Korean sign language.
Page 160: A quote again. Min is intrigued and wants to experience this sound, too, and he’s a little disheartened that he and Li Wei can’t experience it like Fei can.
“‘It’s music. … It is wonderful . . . like a dream.’ I’ve gained new insight as to how sounds can be helpful for communication and survival, but until this moment, it never occurred to me that sounds could be enjoyable too. … This reaches into my heart. … Li Wei can’t experience the music like I can, but something in my mood must come through to him.”
Page 168: Fei notes the emotion that a single sigh can convey, and Min again longs to hear that same sigh and understand its power.
Page 174-175: Min nods along to Fei’s realization that her hearing is a blessing and a curse. That’s the conclusion Min always reaches when he considers which is “better” or “more preferable” – hearing or being deaf. Just like his sense of touch can be a blessing and a curse, he imagines hearing has the same pros and cons to it.
Page 177: A quote from the start of a sentence: “Once I thought I had too many senses…“ Min appreciates the use of “too many” here.
Page 183: Li Wei doesn’t realize he made a noise, but Fei catches it. Again, Min is reminded that so many things make sounds, and that he could be disturbing someone or alerting them to his presence when he doesn’t want to be noticed – all without realizing he’s made a sound.
Page 187-188: Enter Yuusei now. I’m not sure why he didn’t appear earlier in the novel when heights were mentioned, but during the scenes on these and surrounding pages, he’s petrified. How he didn’t pass out on me, I’ll never know. Perhaps his terror kept him lucid? How cruel of it.
Page 213: Fei still has difficulties pinning down the direction from which she hears sounds, especially when they’re far away. Min can imagine it takes a while to get used to.
Page 227: Fei says, “‘I’m still adjusting. It’s a very . . . disconcerting experience.'” That sounds like the perfect description to Min.
Page 242: The description Mead writes for using a loud voice really resonates with Min. (Pun slightly intended?)
Page 244: A quote first: “For those of us with hearing, it is both spectacular and heart-wrenching. My people have no idea how much grief they are conveying.” Min desperately wants to hear this at least once. He feels a camaraderie with her people. He is part of her people.
Page 257: With the ending of the chapter, Min is so nervous about what he feels is coming next that he wants to set the book down for a while, putting off what he fears is the inevitable conclusion to this series of events and the complicated mixed feelings he already has about it.
Page 261: Fei makes note of the changes that have occurred in the village, and Min feels more comfortable with this ending. He’s still not sure what he thinks about the village’s potential future from this point on, but the worries he had and the conflicting feelings he felt preemptively swirling within are skillfully assuaged.
Page 263: Mention of the lessons Fei and her peer are off to learn have the same soothing effect on Min’s mind while, at the same time, it also pricks the intellect in him. He smiles and longs for a similar experience.
Min’s ultimate conclusion by the end of the novel is this: he wants to live a good portion of Soundless from various perspectives – Fei’s as well as side characters’ – but he’s not sure he would want to permanently live as one or the other. H wants the option of hearing…and the option of not hearing because for as much as hearing would thrill him, Min fears a distance would grow between him and the deaf community he’s grown up in. Ultimately, he knows that would depend on his own actions and mindset, but without experiencing hearing and that lifestyle, he can’t know how he would react and what effects it would have on his life. Hearing intrigues and excites him, but it also terrifies him.
Alright, folks, that about wraps it up. If y–
Oh. My boy Li Wei insists that I say he’s pleased with the re-imagining Richelle Mead gave his character for this novel. He’d give her two thumbs up, but he doesn’t want to uncross one of his arms.
… Moving on.
If you’ve read the novel, I’d love to hear what you think about it – and if you’ve had any characters chime in while you read Soundless or any other novel, let me know. If for some reason you’re one of the wonderful crazy people who read this entire post before ever picking up the novel, go read it! I can’t praise it enough. An enormous ten out of five stars from me (and Min Su) for Richelle Mead’s Soundless!