A twist on the fantasy genre turns this debut thriller into a story about a girl discovering her unusual strengths.
From a young age, Preda Torrance was told to be quiet. And not just because she screamed or whined all the time—it turns out her voice could maim and even kill. Now 17, she has changed schools so often— after expulsions for her voluntary muteness—that she has given up on having friends or even a nice family: her father, a cruel, sadistic man, mistreats Preda both physically and emotionally. One day, however, a former employee murders her father in front of her. When the culprit threatens Preda, she kills him with her scream. The next day, when a mysterious man who seems to be a detective pulls her from the classroom, Preda figures that she’s headed for prison or a mental institution. To her surprise, she learns that not only is her father not her father, but she is not even human. Her new caretakers explain that their race is at war with the Soundless (“Fanatics devoted to the extermination of spoken words and the manipulations they can produce”). Preda, though still young, needs to begin training to join the fight. With teenagers Jim Acres and Will Stall, two industrious agents dispatched to keep an eye on Preda, she will have to learn to use her gifts in the greatest conflict of her life. Accompanied by a cat with one ear, she begins a dangerous journey that will eventually take her to Buenos Aires and an island off the coast of Antarctica. Gross raises the teenager-discovers-hidden-powers trope to a metaphorical level, suggesting that one’s voice—a symbol for confidence and action—can affect the outcomes of immense struggles. The dynamic novel shows rather than tells details about Preda’s character while skillfully capturing the internal voice of the teenage girl: “The last thing Preda remembered thinking before losing consciousness was how disappointed Foxy and Al were going to be that she had already gotten herself killed—in an airport bathroom, no less.” Although the narrative exploits some overly familiar elements (for example, a momentous war between nonhumans that humans don’t know about), the distinctive powers of the main characters make for a refreshing read.
An energetic tale injects a teenager embracing her unconventionality into a fast-paced fantasy plot.