Silverblind is a historical fantasy written by Tina Connolly and published by Tor Books in October 2014. (For more on Tina’s work, read my spotlight on her podcast Toasted Cake.) It takes place in an alternate universe 1930s England, 15 years after the end of the Great War against the fae. Silverblind is the third book to take place in this setting, after her debut novel Ironskin and Copperhead. I was advised that Silverblind works as a standalone so I had not read the other two books at all before reading this one–this was largely true, although I tended to mix up the secondary characters of Jane and Helen whom I think were the protagonists of the first two books.
The fae are a mostly-ephemeral race that usually exist as drifting clouds of blue energy. They’re mostly harmless, spending most of their time lazily floating around the forests and basking in patches of sunlight. But every once in a while a strong leader arises who can unite the fae and incite them to action.
Adora Rochart is a woman who exists between two worlds. She is half-fae. She may be the only half-fae, certainly the only one she’s ever known of. She can use her fae half to manipulate objects from a distance, divert others attention from herself, or make herself intangible or invisible. She also has an unalterable natural beauty that’s a mark of her fae heritage, which reasserts herself no matter what she tries to do about it (this is more of a nuisance than a benefit).
For seven years Dorie has kept her fae half locked in a box, to try to just be a normal person and to remove the temptation for mischief that her extra abilities grant her. Dorie has just graduated from secondary school and now she needs to find a job soon to pay her rent. But, although women are now accepted as students as they haven’t been in the past, they are still routinely rejected from certain occupational positions, like the field research position she desires at the Queen’s Lab doing fieldwork with wyverns. She applies, and is rejected on account of being a member of the fairer sex.
Most of this information is conveyed in the book in just the first couple chapters. The author shows her skill for writing tight prose that neither overloads nor underloads the information at any given point–it never left me confused nor bored.
The characters are believable and relatable; Dorie herself as the aspiring scientist, her roommate and best friend the tomboyish artist Jack (short for Jacqueline), and Dorie’s cousin Tam with whom she shares a complicated history involving the fae, and other characters both major and minor. There were characters I could root for and some I could root against (sometimes the same person in quick succession).
One thing that is oddly missing in many stereotypical fantasy settings is the signs of social and technological change. Society and technology are ever in flux in our world–why would this be different in a fantasy world? Silverblind manages this very well. Society is changing in the body of the story — not least of which is the increase in social power that women are experiencing, though they are still held back in most opportunities. Technology as well, though with the presence of fae and wyverns the scientific advancements look rather different than they did in our world. I love that aspect of it, despite what seems to be the popular viewpoint, science is not in conflict with magic. Science is a tool that can be used to document and explore anything that is observable. If magic is observable, then scientists would be all over it to learn all about its limits and dreaming up ways to apply these new findings to everyday life and furthering of theories.
Long story short: Silverblind is tightly written, stands well by itself, has a cast of believable and relatable characters, has much better world building than much fantasy and takes into account the transitive nature of society and technology. I now intend to go back and read Ironskin and Copperhead and find out what I missed.