Enchanting, spirited, wildly imaginative, thematically-rich – all of these words combined might begin to express the wonder that is Laini Taylor’s second Dreamdark book, Silksinger. If you haven’t read the first title, Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer, I’m jealous (read my review of Blackbringer here). Only a little bit jealous though, because Laini’s books fall into that rare category of story that you will want to read again and again as life goes on, so I know I will find as much delight in rereading as I did the first time around. I read Silksinger in the space of a day and a half, and I think that is exactly the way to enjoy it best, if you can spare the time to spend hours and hours reading. The reason? Laini’s faeire world feels as real as our own. You will see it, smell it, hear it. You will be there in it and you won’t want to step out of it and break the magic to do things like laundry and dog-walking and dinner-making. I was eager to read Silksinger because I loved Blackbringer so much but I wondered how Laini would manage to write something as wonderful. I don’t know how she managed it, but she did, that’s for sure.
After a brutal devil attack, Whisper Silksinger is the last faeire left in her clan, and now she carries with her the very thing the bloodthirsty devils were seeking. Held in a battered tea kettle is what looks like an ember. This is no ember, though, it is the Azazel, one of the world’s creators, asleep in ember form. Alone and hunted, Whisper must find a way to get the Azazel to the city of Nazneen, where she can place the ember inside the Azazel’s temple. Then the Djinn with awaken from his 4000 year sleep and his power will be restored, giving him the ability to fight the growing evil that threatens to destroy the Tapestry of Creation. Someone else seeks the Azazel. Hirik Mothmage hopes to find the Djinn so that he can become the Azazel’s champion and restore honour to his clan. Hirik and Whisper meet and begin traveling together, neither one trusting or knowing much of the other’s purpose. Not far behind them is Magpie Windwitch, the Magruwen’s champion, who speeds after Hirik and Whisper, hoping to keep them safe from the evil forces at their heels. Magpie can only protect the guardians from the villains she knows, however, and there is a greater evil working against the faeries that is almost ready to strike.
Once again, Laini offers readers a cast of characters so carefully crafted you’ll be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Happily, old friends are back: Magpie and her band of crows and Talon, Batch Hangnail the imp, Bellatrix and Poppy all feature in Silksinger, as witty and feisty and warm as ever. I don’t really know where to begin with the new characters, every one of them is memorable, whether good or bad or in between. Whisper is a vulnerable thing, with hidden strength. I loved the idea of the Silksingers’ powers, their ability to weave incredible patterns in silk using song. Whisper keeps this ability hidden, but eventually, she demonstrates her gift in one of the most memorable sequences in the novel. Slomby, the snail-like slave creature, is a lovely character, fearful and sweet, worried and disappointed in his own powerlessness. Let’s just say that after reading Silksinger I’m hoping that Laini Taylor finds a way to bring everyone back in the final book of the trilogy. (Okay, maybe not some of the baddies, but all of the good guys).
The world-building is second-to-none. You have to think that Laini enjoys this, because she goes to so much trouble to convey details about the faerie world, its culture and hierarchy, songs, history and clans. I could quote many different descriptive passages that would blow you away. My favourite was the passage when we first arrive at Nazneen, but I don’t want to rob you the pleasure of experiencing that within the context of the story. It’s that good. The sense of place is amazing. Here’s another lovely bit, the description of the market at Shark Fin Peak:
She’d heard tales of the dragonfly caravans of the Sayash Mountains. She had conjured images of dragonflies loaded with goods, tusked hobgoblins driving them on, and ancient stone halls like these where they stopped to trade. There would be spice and silver, she had imagined, and silks billowing in the mountain wind. And here was all of that. But in her daydreams there had never been anything like this pandemonium. Music jangled and merchants sang. Clouds of smoke billowed from cook fires, and imps beckoned folk into a gambling den with cries of, “Liar’s dice and whirl-the-snake!” There were huge mice foraging for crumbs, and up in the eaves, bats hung by their toes with their wings wrapped snug as cocoons. The great dome of the pavilion rose so high over Whisper’s head she almost got dizzy looking up at it. It was the first true building she had ever been in, having lived her whole life in a series of cozy caves, and she was overcome with awe. For all its grandeur, though, she saw the walls were lichen-streaked and spidered with cracks, and there was a general reek of mildew and soot.
It doesn’t stop there, but I think you should just go get the book and read it yourself. The voices of the characters ring true and each one is unique. I love the passages with the crows and Magpie. The dialogue is wonderful. Overall, Silksinger exudes such warmth you can almost feel it inside, the way you would cosying up to a fire in a snug house. It’s in the way the character’s speak, their honest and lively banter, and it’s in the miraculous and detailed worldbuilding.
Thematically, this novel is about goodness, about how it can be a force to be reckoned with as much as evil, but how good is as pure and natural and complex as a Silksinger’s song. It’s also about creating change, making the world you want, and being willing to work for it. Hirik says, “New ages don’t just dawn all by themselves. They’re not sunrises. If you want a new age, you don’t wait for it – you make it.”
Laini Taylor’s work here and in her other books as well, proves she is a true storyteller, and her stories read like the sorts of tales that might have been told on journeys, on ships, around fires, long ago. You’ll be swept up. Enjoy it. Books like this are to be treasured by readers and kept close as sleeping Djinns.
Silksinger is published by Putnam. Note: text is quoted from ARC and may differ from the work in the final printed book.