A YA NOVEL WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY DAVID MELLON
Historical fiction and magical realism meld in this haunting story set during World War I.
Fifteen-year-old Adi, the green-eyed, brown-skinned, and dark-haired daughter of a British father and an Indian mother, leaves her home in India to escort her twin 10-year-old half brothers to her British grandmother in Europe. She unknowingly ruins the well-laid plans of the sinister shape-shifter Coal…and now he is exacting his revenge. He kidnaps the twins, gives her a watch with four riddles that she must decode to find them, and warns her that she must also remain silent—no talking, no writing—and find them before the watch runs down…or else! As Adi, disguised as a French soldier, tries to solve the riddles around Europe during the chaos and conflicts of the Great War, an interesting variety of people comes together to help or hinder her. Historical details are mostly restricted to Adi’s circumstances, and a deep knowledge of World War I is not necessary to enjoy this story. Although some details remain unresolved, it is Coal, with his disturbing habits, dramatic history, and cryptic motivations, who rises to amaze and shock throughout the book, and protagonist Adi fails to match up to him.
Although the antagonist overshadows the protagonist, this World War I story is nevertheless a dark and memorable one. (Magical realism/historical fiction. 12 & up)
Melissa Robles rated it -really liked it.
This review can also be found at The Reader and the Chef!
Okay, um, wow. Silent by David Mellon is such a captivating read. It's perfect for fans of Historical Fiction since it is set during World War I but it will also appeal to readers who love a bit of magic and mystery!
This book is about the struggles of a young Indian-British girl who is unfortunate to be caught up in the schemes of a stranger called Coal. Having messed up his plans, he kidnaps her twin brothers and gives her a mysterious pocket watch containing four riddles to solve within a four and a half year countdown in case she ever wants to see them again. As an extra note of precaution, Coal takes away her ability to speak and forbids her to write for help or he will harm the twins. Thus begins Adi's mad race to solve the puzzle, taking her from the comforts of a mansion straight to military action of World War I.
To be honest, I was not expecting Silent to be such a thrilling read. I love historical fiction yet it's been a while since I became so invested in one. Maybe it helped that it has magic (I love magic), but I believe it mostly had to do with the wonderful characters and how we learn the history of each of them.
My favorite character is of course, Adi. She's smart, selfless, and incredibly brave. Her voice is taken away, but she finds other ways to get herself heard. It's amazing how by the end of the novel, she has so many people trying to help her! I also loved George, who is the first guy to take Adi seriously and gives her the push she needs to keep solving the riddles. I fell for him hard (something I wasn't expecting from this novel). But the one character who stayed with me is Doc. He's the father figure that Adi needed in her time working in military camps and his support was elemental for her survival.
The thing that I really don't know how to explain is the magic inside this book. It's strange and mysterious, all part of the enigmatic Coal (who is the one that throws Adi into this quest). I mean, I call it magic because how else to explain Coal's unusual abilities? But you know, I believe Silent perfectly portrays how some things in history, events that happened AND happen in real life, sometimes cannot be fully understood or explained. And how this mystery is all part of the charm, the thing that sets room for speculation. In any case, I enjoyed it!
All in all, Silent might start off a bit slow but once you get past the first chapters and Adi's pocket watch starts ticking, you'll be drawn into the story and won't be able to get away. The thrilling mystery, Adi's journey, and the beautiful illustrations that accompany each part o the story make David Mellon's novel a compelling read worthy of your time. Highly recommend! Melissa Robles
BY JESSICA CARBERTMARCH 10, 2017 // 3:47 PM
‘Sup readers? Welcome back to Fan Fest’s On The Shelf— if you’ve kept up with the column, you know the drill. Basically, books take up a lot of space, so the ones you choose to keep should be stories you thoroughly enjoy, rather than mediocre reads with awe-worthy cover designs; I’ll sift through newly-released literature, and tell you which would be recommended to sit pretty on your shelf, and which would be best relegated to your e-reader. It’s all opinion-based, but that’s the gist of it, and away we go.
This week has been dismal, weather-wise. Detained in what some might call the unwashed coccyx of Canada comes with fierce winds, disagreeable cold fronts, snow, and rain that smells like fish. Utterly miserable, calling for a book that would provide not only entertainment, but complete and total distraction.
David Mellon’s Silent just happened to be this week’s book. Silent’s Goodreads pagecategorizes it as a historical thriller, and the ensuing summary makes it sound like a standard YA story with a Mulan-esque twist: disguising herself as a man, a teenage girl enlists in the army during WWI, all in the name of saving her younger brothers. That would be exciting enough on its own, but for once, Goodreads has failed potential readers and thrown them off of Silent’s real scent. In order to fully embrace David Mellon’s Silent for what it is, you must empty your head of preconceived notions regarding fictionalized accounts of wartime, and imagine.
Imagine: a man who is also an evil shapeshifter (named Coal, for future reference). A man who is the indirect impetus for WWI— he might not have shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, but he was the driving force behind it happening— is angry at you for botching his earlier attempts at warmongering. So angry, in fact, that he burns down your house, kidnaps your younger twin brothers, and will only give you a pocket watch marked with your own blood, and brain-melting riddles to help you find them. The kicker? You cannot speak or write, thereby isolating yourself from any potential help— if you want to find your brothers and stop this depraved madman, you’ll have to do it by being absolutely silent.
This is the situation our central protagonist, Aditi— “Adi”— has found herself embroiled in. Half-British and half-Indian, Adi is used to being an outcast, having a tougher time than most. But without words of any kind to help her explain, she’s left with her wits, her luck (despite the torching of her home and the kidnapping of her siblings, she’s remarkably lucky), and the kindness of strangers to solve this mystery and find the twins.
This is the oddest novel I’ve read in quite some time. Though the summary suggests it’s about a war, Adi doesn’t actually stumble into her career as a soldier until almost halfway through the book (48% of the way through, to be precise). Even then, WWI is not an all-encompassing thing, it’s a mere roadblock on her journey to save her brothers. Throughout the entirety of the book, readers are treated to Mellon weaving numerous side-stories with deftness, slipping them casually into the framework of the larger plot, entrancing readers with weird bits of never-fully-explained magic and characters that encompass various extremes on the morality spectrum.
While Adi is resourceful and driven, written like a blend of Mulan, Belle, Ariel, and Tiana— it’s her mysterious antagonist who steals the spotlight. Coal may be a man of magic, but he’s also a man with a past, with his own private reasons for committing atrocities, and even— though it’s never made explicitly clear as to why— helping Adi avoid some of her own. In a story that’s already overloaded with questions, its pages dripping with mysteries large and small, Coal is the inciting enigma, the base from which this rocket ship is launched into space. In that way, he is far more complex, and more interesting than any of the other characters. While you don’t necessarily want him to win— he brought about World War I! Nobody wants that!— you’re morbidly curious about the man and the power he wields.
You would think the book would flow in a linear fashion (it’s not that long, 320 pages) but it reaches back and forth, springing forward then leaping back. How Mellon managed this without causing a headache, I’m not sure, but he did.
It should be noted that one does not require a vast knowledge of WWI to enjoy the story. It’s more about the stories within a story, and the characters who inhabit Mellon’s fascinatingly-imagined playground. Magical realism reigns supreme, but then again, so does the notion of responsibility— whether you’re a girl trying to save her brothers, or the heir to a throne, drunkenly deferring your duties.
Silent does stumble over itself a little bit, at times staggering through the different characters and their various woes, devoting time to some and then skimping with others. It sometimes manages to feel like the bookish counterpart of Ouroboros— though maybe that’s the point.
All in all, this strange little novel’s pros outweigh its cons, wrangling itself a spot on the shelf. I will be eagerly waiting for Mellon’s next foray into the literary world. If Silent sounds like your kind of read, you can pick up a copy here.
“Engrossing combination of historical fiction and modern fairy tale … .Mellon has created an original plot, and the clever riddles showcase his impressive knowledge of history.” – School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—This engrossing combination of historical fiction and modern fairy tale starts in 1914, when a devil-like figure, Coal, plots to begin a world war in France. Adi, the daughter of a British military officer and an Indian nurse, accidentally foils his plan. In return, Coal kidnaps Adi's twin half brothers, but he leaves her a peculiar pocket watch, which contains four riddles that point to the brothers' whereabouts, and he forbids her from speaking until she locates them. It seems like an impossible rescue mission until George, a kindhearted duke, agrees to help her and whisks her off to his castle, which is filled with an eccentric royal family. Just as they begin to decipher the riddles, war erupts and thrusts them in different directions. Adi disguises herself as a French soldier and tags along with a doctor as he tends to the wounded. It may be difficult for readers to believe that Adi makes it through the entire war without speaking or without anyone discovering that she's a woman. Equally frustrating is the lack of information about Coal's identity and motivations. However, Mellon has created an original plot, and the clever riddles showcase his impressive knowledge of history. Readers will find themselves Googling the locations and events mentioned throughout. VERDICT Hand this general purchase to teen history buffs who also enjoy a bit of fantasy.—Amy Duffy, Chicago Public Library – School Library Journal
"This is a mythical quest novel ... .Adi, however, is a bold, courageous character ... .The descriptions of the war are accurate and may provide an interesting background to students studying the topic ... .Mellon puts historical fiction in a new setting." - VOYA Magazine
Mellon, David. Silent. Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, 2017.
Mellon’s debut novel follows Adi Dahl, a fifteen-year-old girl with an Indian mother and a British father, on a quest across Europe to rescue her twin brothers from the embrace of the evil, shape-shifting Coal. The action takes place in France immediately before and during World War I. Coal presents Adi with a mystical timepiece that counts down the time she has left to solve four riddles that will reveal where to find her brothers. As he hands her the timepiece, Coal takes away her voice, leaving Adi to solve the riddles and discover the hiding place in silence. Adi, a strong female protagonist, must disguise herself as a male soldier to gain the freedom to explore and complete her task. Readers learn what life is like for a soldier during this time period.
This is a mythical quest novel, similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. The many secondary characters in the story are barely introduced, making the story hard to follow at times. Adi, however, is a bold, courageous character, while Coal is a menacing, shocking antagonist. The descriptions of the war are accurate and may provide an interesting background to students studying the topic, particularly the battle scenes of trench warfare and the struggles the soldiers faced on the battlefield. Mellon puts historical fiction in a new setting. Readers unfamiliar with World War I history will learn about life during wartime and the hardships faced by civilians during this trying period of history.—Ellen Frank.
Silent. Mellon, David (author).
Mar. 2017. 320p. Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, hardcover, $17.99 (9781507201688). Grades 7-10.
REVIEW. First published May 5, 2017 (Booklist Online).
A shadowy, otherworldly character named Coal, purveyor of mega-evil designs, tries to accelerate war declaration in 1914 Europe through a poisoning plot. His plans are inadvertently upset by a young serving girl, Adi, in a café. Exacting revenge, Coal makes a deadly bargain with the unsuspecting Adi by kidnapping her young twin brothers and bestowing her with a pocket watch embedded with obscure riddles that could lead her to the boys’ discovery. Can Adi figure out the clues within the assigned deadline? Let the rollicking, suspenseful adventure begin! Meanwhile, war unfolds across the land. Intrepid and steadfast, Adi acquires helpful allies along the way, all vivid characters in their own rights. At one point during her almost impossible journey, she disguises herself as a French soldier and witnesses the gore of battle as a medic’s assistant. An imaginative telling of lives upended by war, this is an elegant fable with a layered-puzzle setup. Best for historical-fiction fans who like a little magic realism and mystery in their stories.
— Anne O’Malley