Laini Taylor, Dreamdark: Silksinger (Putnam, 2009)
Laini Taylor returns in excellent form with Dreamdark: Silksinger, the sequel to her whimsical, yet profound, first book Dreamdark: Blackbringer. In the previous book, Taylor established an intricate yet colourful world of faeries, imps, goblins, and devils, all of whom are creations of the seven Djinn, fire elementals who created the world by weaving the Tapestry of Creation.
As mentioned in Blackbringer, the seven Djinn confined themselves to a deep slumber after an unexplained betrayal, and ever since, the Tapestry has been slowly unravelling, threatening all of creation with total annihilation. Our heroine, Magpie Windwitch, the only faerie in existence born with the ability to weave the Tapestry as the Djinn can, woke up the Magruwen, the Djinn King, and became his champion.
In Silksinger, Magpie is commissioned by the Djinn King to find and awaken the surviving Djinn so that they can reweave the Tapestry and keep all existence intact. While Magpie's power to weave the Tapestry has kept the apocalypse at bay and preserved dying magics, it's still largely unpredictable and can hinder as much as it helps, so the rest of the Djinn are needed to restore the Tapestry to its former glory.
At the same time this is happening, young Whisper Silksinger flees from her ruined home with a battered teakettle that secretly contains the Azazel, a sleeping Djinn that her dying clan has guarded for thousands of years. After an army of devils destroys her home and murders her remaining family members trying to find the Azazel, she decides to take the Djinn to Nazneen, the Azazel's capital city, to awaken him by restoring him to his ancient throne.
However, she is small, weak, and alone, and the devils chasing her are hungry, numerous, and controlled by an insidious evil that will stop at nothing to obtain a Djinn for its own nefarious purposes. Fleeing her isolated home, Whisper discovers that faerie society has grown frivolous, selfish, and arrogant, and no one will spare her a glance except Hirik, a young mercenary with a secret past.
Silksinger does everything the sequel to a new series should: it maintains and expands upon the story established in the previous book, it introduces fleshed-out new characters without abandoning the old, and it ties up enough loose ends while at the same time leaving room for future books.
While Magpie has a smaller role in Silksinger thanks to Whisper's storyline, her vibrancy and characterization remain undiminished. While she's still a confident and outspoken character, Magpie's new position as champion brings along some issues with self-esteem, as she struggles with whether or not she should alter her behaviour or appearance to satisfy society's idea of what a champion should be like. And then there's her tangled, pre-pubescent relationship with faerie prince Talon that threatens to turn into a real barnburner once the puberty fairy (which, given Taylor's whimsical humour, could very well turn out to be a future character) gives them both a smack.
With Whisper, the reader gets a character who is almost the complete opposite of Magpie. Named Whisper because her powerfully magical voice requires her to speak quietly to avoid invoking spells, she starts off the book as a terrified shrinking violet who acts like fate's saddest punching bag. She needs to fulfill her family's duty, but she has no concept of how the world works beyond this monumental task and apparently can't meet a character who doesn't want to squish her underfoot like a bug. While she spends a few chapters dithering and damsel-in-distress-ing, slowly she does develop a spine and come into her own, and her payback is as horrifying as it is creative.
As it was with Blackbringer, Laini Taylor's writing style sparkles. There's nothing about either book that screams "Young Adult!" in glitter with capital letters -- instead, Laini Taylor simply imbues her wondrous writing with a youthful tone rich with enthusiasm, humour, wonder, and discovery, while at the same time providing an undercurrent of dark imagery and elements of horror that lend it depth. Readers will be frightened (although nothing in this book quite matches the nightmare-inducing Gutsuck from Blackbringer), but they will also be excited, enlivened, and inspired.
While the novel's initial villain is eventually dealt with, Dreamdark: Silksinger is more open-ended than its predecessor, but it also addresses the series' overarching storyline (find, rescue, and awaken the Djinn before the world falls apart) in sharper-defined terms. With this novel, Laini Taylor demonstrates that she's just as capable of continuing a dazzlingly inventive series as she is in starting one, which bodes extremely well for future books.