Word and Breath
Wordless Chronicles, Book #1
By Susannah Noel
Author’s website: http://susannah-noel.com
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Vicki
Susannah Noel’s Young Adult debut is an ode to censorship and consumerism gone mad; with a dash of romance, a sprinkling of intrigue and a drop of action to whet the appetite. Word and Breath, is a justifiable addition to the ever-so-popular dystopian genre as well as being a respectable first installment to the Wordless Chronicles.
Our protagonist, Riana Cole, has spent the majority of her life caring for her disabled sister, Jannie, and perfecting the art of wallflowerdom. Riana passes her day working as a Reader for the governing Union, translating old documents and studying information provided in texts; the written word is scarce and people with the ability to read are few and far between. Riana has the additional skill of being able to read the Old Language, which makes her a target for fundamentalist factions of the government and independent guerrilla insurrectionists.
The Union send Mikel, a Soul-Breather and strapping young lad, to seduce (PG-13 style) Riana into revealing the extent of her knowledge and ability; they are convinced that she is hiding something and is in league with the peaceful rebel group, The Front. Soul-Breathers consume the essence of a person to learn their secrets and Mikel attempts to do just that. Unfortunately for him and his pay check he begins to develop feelings for Riana. When Jannie is kidnapped by an unknown group, Mikel, along with a few others, aid Riana in her quest to find her.
It seems that Riana was a bit of a blank slate before the events of Word and Breath took place. Her personality is revealed through her reaction to her sister’s kidnapping and the measures that she is forced to go to as a result of this. Although there was some character development, I finished the novel not really understanding who Riana Cole is/was. As the series unfolds I would like to see a few more defining traits from Riana to make her less of a reader-self-insert character. She resembled too many other dystopian characters for me to truly empathize with her plight. On the other hand, it is possible that Riana is a product of her censored world and throughout the series we will see her break away from this mold.
Mikel is the bad-boy-turned-good. He also has the best development and dialogue in Word and Breath. The budding romance between him and Riana is thwarted by betrayal and past affections. Noel establishes hints of a love triangle but the romantic attention consistently returns to Mikel; making him the obvious frontrunner. Even though I felt a bit reluctant to back Team Mikel, Noel did a good job of convincing me that it was the right team to be on. For me, the Soul-Breathers represented our constant need to consume information; both public and private. Although this world is fraught with legal limitations on the sharing of knowledge this is counteracted by people who have the ability to obtain knowledge that belongs to others. I really enjoyed the exploration of this theme.
The world is the most interesting aspect of the novel. As previously mentioned, Noel demonstrates her version of what would happen if there was widespread censorship. There are direct comparisons with the world that we are living in today all throughout Word and Breath and it is this realism that really cements the story and the development of the Wordless world. I enjoyed seeing our own current economic and political circumstances translated into a hypothetical view of the future. I do wish Noel had explored this theme a little further but I understand that the restraint was probably instigated by the target audience.
I did feel that there could have been a little more explanation as to how censorship became an epidemic but towards the end of this book we get glimpses of a revelation to come further on in the series. I specifically enjoyed this cliff-hanger because the state of the world was something I wanted to learn more about when reading. The revelation tease is what will make readers want to read on in the series.
Word and Breath was entertaining. I feel as though more attention to the character development and world-building would have earned this book an extra star as I am still a little bit confused about the whole who/why/when/what/how of it all. The Wordless Chronicles are chock-full of potential; Noel has some imaginative ideas and it is going to be great to see how these ideas play out. I recommend this book for fans of Young Adult dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels.