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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Rhiannon Held: SILVER SERIES

Author:  Rhiannon Held
Title:  SILVER
Plot Type:  Urban Fantasy (UF)
Ratings:  Violence4; Sensuality3-4; Humor2
Publisher and Titles: Tor
             Silver (6/2012)
             Tarnished (5/2013)
             Reflected (2/2014)   

     If you are not reading Held's SILVER novels, you are missing out on a terrific series with a fresh approach to werewolves, one that sticks with a more natural approach and stays away from all the convenient but stale magical elements that we find in so many urban fantasies. Instead  of catastrophic save-the-world plots, these novels follow a damaged alpha female werewolf and her alpha mate as they search for a normal life while dealing with various enemies and with the stresses of daily life in the pack. The series reminds me a great deal of Patricia Briggs' MERCY THOMPSON series but with werewolves onlyno vampires, fae, or demonic entities. Held is a skilled writer who has created a cast of interesting, sometimes quirky, characters whom she places into suspenseful plot situations and then allows us to watch their varied reactions. 

     This post was revised and updated on 4/2/14 to include a review of Reflected, the third novel in this series. That review appears first, followed by an overview of the world-building and review of the first two novels:    

             NOVEL 3:  Reflected               
     Three years have passed since Felicia came to live with her father, Andrew Dare, and his lover, Silver. Although Dare and Silver are now alphas to all of the North American packs, they continue to live in Seattle and use the title "Roanoke," the name of Dare's former pack in the Southeast. All of the former alphas of the American packs now serve as sub-alphas under their direction. Dare and Silver are both called "Roanoke," meaning that both have equal alpha authority. As the story begins, Felicia is eighteen years old and has been playing the role of spoiled, bored princessdragging her feet on anything that pertains to her future, be it college, a job, or roaming, which are the three options open to young American werewolves. 

     Roaming is an aspect of the werewolf culture that reminds me of the Amish Rumspringaa time when young people in their late teens and early twenties can take off on their own to roam around the country, meet people from other communities (or in this case, packs), and then either return home or settle elsewhere. Held says that she got the idea from the customs of the Travellers (aka Tinkers, Gypsies) in Great Britain. Click HERE to read her thoughts on that subject. Eventually, Dare lays down the law to Felicia, demanding that she choose one of those three possibilities, and act on it immediately. Dare's ultimatum comes after Felicia and Tom go off on a "chase" (a euphemism for sexual encounter) that results in Tom's getting hit by a car.

     Just about that time, Dare receives a phone call from the sub-alpha in Alaska about a problem that requires him and his beta, John (Silver's cousin) to head North to help sort out a situation involving a half-human/half-werewolf child. That leaves Silver in charge of the pack, with Susan (John's human wife) as her stand-in beta. (Susan's development into a strong pack member is fascinating to see.) Silver is (rightly) worried about her ability to keep things together, but she knows her duty and sends Dare off to Alaska. 

     Almost immediately, things begins to go wrong. First, the female Portland sub-alpha arrives with her male beta, who petitions to have her removed from her alpha position because she is pregnant. Then more females from other packs show up to weigh in on one side or another of the argument. At times, this story line descends slightly into soap opera, but in the end, the seriousness of the issues raise it to the level of high drama with far-reaching effects on the lives of all of the female alphas. 

     As the story lines develop, the novel's theme becomes apparent: werewolf culture as it relates to adult gender roles involving children at all developmental statesfrom fetus to young adulthood. It's the same old argument that we find in the human world—that women shouldn't hold positions of authority because they are supposed to stay home with the kids and let men take charge. All three of the story lines are connected to that theme: Felicia's late adolescent rage against authority (i.e., her father and Silver); the fierce differences of opinion in the Portland pregnancy situation; and the human mother in Alaska who must give up her half-werewolf child (although this last case is dealt with very lightly and from afar).  

     Another theme involves the two sides of forgiveness: the culprit asking for forgiveness and the the injured party granting forgiveness. Held uses what she calls therapeutic metaphors (aka allegories, fables, parables) in several scenes to reflect characters' situations back to them in the form of stories. Silver tells these stories to several characters instead of giving overt advice, and she bases her stories on myths told about the Lady and on old folktales from the werewolf culture. Click HERE to read a blog interview in which Held discusses how and why she used these therapeutic metaphors.

     In the midst of these carryings-on, a lone wolf who claims to be from South America asks Silver for permission to visit for awhile. Unfortunately for everyone, that wolf, whose name is Enrique, is not South American. He is a childhood friend of Felicia's from Madrid and has been sent to infiltrate Seattle and figure out a way to incapacitate Silver and then take down Dare. When Felicia recognizes Enrique, she lies when Silver asks her directly if Enrique is from Madrid. From that point on, Felicia acts just like any naive, late-teen rebel. She takes dangerous risks, engages in inappropriate behavior, involves herself in treacherous actions, and soon finds herself way over her head in some extremely perilous business. Being a typical know-it-all young woman, she doesn't ask for help, even when she realizes what she's gotten herself into, which makes the situation exponentially worse.  

     Held tells the story in the third person, mostly from the perspectives of Silver and Felicia. In this book, Silver has to make some momentous decisions without Dare's input, a situation that she has not had to face since they got together. She also has to face insubordination and hurtful remarks from some of the wolves who have involved themselves in the Portland pregnancy case. Even Felicia uses horrific insults at one point to manipulate Silver into punishing her so that she can (at least she hopes she can) put an end to Enrique's plot. Throughout the book, Silver is forced to conquer her own weaknesses (primarily mental and emotional) and eventually she has to unlock her memories—the ones of her former pre-silver-injected self—and she has to do it alone, without Dare, who has been her constant anchor.

     Once again, Held has created a terrific page-turner of a novel with a fast-moving plot, plenty of suspense, subtle humor, and nuanced characters (even the villain). Tom continues to be a strong character, and in this book he has a maturing influence on Felicia that will no doubt turn into a loving relationship given time. This is such a wonderful series—a fresh and inventive approach to werewolves that moves away from woo-woo magical effects to the often gut-wrenching consequences of plain old human (or werewolf) nature—proving that they aren't much different from one another. You could read this novel as a stand-alone, but do yourself a favor and read all three novels in sequence for a richer reading experience. This novel will definitely be on my "Top 10" list for 2014. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Reflected.  


     Using her knowledge of anthropology, the author treats werewolves as a tribal society. In an on-line interview she says, “They're a species, not the product of some magical curse. Werewolves can only be born, not turned. That way, I can have fun with all the cool biology and anthropology of pack dynamics, breeding populations, resource pressure, and all kinds of stuff, nudging them in non-human or exaggerated directions, but still keeping a group that will resonate as 'biological [sic] same people' with my audience.”

     In this mythology, werewolves originated in Europe and emigrated to North America on the ship that brought the Roanoke colonists to what is now Virginia in 1586. The werewolves survived that first bitter winter, but the human settlers did not. Some 21st century werewolves still carry family names of the Roanoke settlers (e.g., Andrew Dare, who is a direct descendant of Virginia Dare). Currently, the werewolves of eastern North America live in sub-packs under one alpha. The western packs are more independent, with each one having its own alpha. Each pack leader is referred to by the name of the pack's geographical area of settlement (e.g., Roanoke, Seattle, Portland).

     Silver is an important plot element in this series. These werewolves are so severely allergic to silver that it can cause extreme scarring, loss of their wolf form, and even death. Centuries ago, European monks and priests used silver to torture and kill werewolves, and some werewolves used it on their own species as a weapon or for torture. Most packs believe that no one is using silver any longer, but that turns out to be untrue.

     Religion is also important to these werewolves. Most of them worship “the Lady” (aka the moon), and every time her name is mentioned, they press their thumbs to their foreheads and bow their heads. In this series, their moon worship is somewhat more organized than in most werewolf series. Andrew Dare, the hero of Silver, goes against the majority in this respect. He is a defiant atheist in contrast to his heroine, Silver, who believes deeply in the Lady, even though she believes that the Lady has deserted her.

             NOVEL 1:  Silver            
     As the story opens, Andrew Dare, enforcer for the Roanoke pack, is on the hunt for a lone wolf who smells like silver. Dare has a tragic history that involved the death of his wife and the abduction of his daughter while he was a European pack member. After Andrew went berserk following his wife's death, the European werewolves put a price on his head, forcing him to flee to the U.S., where he joined Roanoke and now lives a lonely life as a feared and despised disciplinarian—and sometimes executioner. Dare is a potential alpha, but he has no desire to assume that kind of responsibility.

     When Dare captures the lone wolf he’s been searching for, he discovers that she has been tortured—injected with silver nitrate—and has lost the ability to shift. She calls herself Silver because, she says, she has lost her former self to the “Monster” who tortured her. Silver also has apparently lost her sanity because she keeps talking to a personified version of Were-Death who is invisible to everyone else. In addition, Silver sees the world around her differently than other people do. For example, where Dare sees a busy highway, Silver sees a rushing river. Silver is so traumatized that she can’t—or won’t—tell Dare the who-what-where-why about her torture, so he contacts the Western packs and eventually takes her out to the Pacific Northwest to begin a search. The rest of the book follows that search as the two interact uneasily with the Portland and Seattle packs and eventually confront Silver’s “Monster.” The author tells the story in the third person voice, alternating the perspective between Dare and Silver.

     In an audio on-line interview, the author makes it clear that Silver’s sanity is open to judgment. Does Silver actually see the spirit realm, or has her torture pushed her over the edge into hallucinatory insanity? According to the author, one could make a case for either side of that question. In any event, Death is definitely an important character in this story as he constantly adds his sardonic comments to every situation and eventually provides assistance to the good guys. Silver is not a stereotypically tough and streetwise urban fantasy heroine dripping with weapons and attitude. Here, the author explains Silver's character in another on-line interview, “Since my werewolves are physically stronger than normal humans, Silver could have gone that direction, and so I took away her ability to shift and also gave her [an] injured arm to give her a chance to show how strong she could be in other ways.”

     If you limit your reading to stereotypically erotic, battle-fueled werewolf romances, this is not the book for you. But if you're looking for a  fresh and inventive take on the werewolf culture seen through the eyes of its two damaged lead characters, I recommend that you give this one a try. When the action intensifies in the climactic ending scene, the pay-off is big because we care so much for Silver and Dare. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Silver.      

             NOVEL 2:  Tarnished             
     The action picks up just after the first book's ending, with Dare and Silver still in residence with the Seattle pack. They are getting ready for the national Convocation, where Dare will challenge Rory for leadership of the Roanoke pack. Unfortunately, the couple immediately runs into a major problem when Nate, the Sacramento pack leader, begins attacking them in retaliation for Dare's killing of Sacramanto's son during the time that Dare was the Roanoke enforcer. The son had been raping and killing human women and paid for his crimes with his life. Sacramento is a sociopath who uses his need for vengeance as an excuse to go after Silver in the mistaken belief that her physical weakness makes her easy prey.

     This revenge story line provides the bare bones of a plot that contains much, much more. For example, we have the developing story of Susan and Seattle (aka John). She is the human mother of Seattle's infant son, and he has no idea how to handle her relationship with his pack. Silver steps in to give Susan advice and offer a shoulder to lean on, and Dare even helps out by providing some valuable advice about pack customs and traditions. The problem is that under werewolf law, humans who find out about werewolves must be terminated. Seattle, Silver, and Dare don't want that to happen, but when Susan takes drastic action against Sacramento, she is forced to go on trial for her life during the Convocation. Unlike other UF series where a quick bite would make Susan a werewolf and quickly solve the problem, this series takes the approach that werewolves are bornnot bite-created. This means that the plots are much more complexlayered with creative problem-solving and the need for patient communication. I hope that this doesn't make the series sound dullquite the opposite, in fact. As the characters face cultural differences and work through acceptance problems, we care about them on a deeper level than if they found instant solutions through magical powers. Werewolf society here is presented as a complex social structurenot as the simple wolf-pack hierarchy we find in so many other series. It's fascinating to watch Susan as she learns to stop filtering werewolf behavior through her human mores and to understand how a werewolf pack truly functions.

     Then there's the relationship between Silver and Death, who appears to her as a black wolf who uses the voices of people from her past to offer an ongoing commentaryand cryptic advice. To preserve an image of sanity, Silver must be careful to speak to Death only when others aren't around. Most people already think that she is a bit crazy, and as Dare's mate, and future co-pack leader, she doesn't want her reputation to get any worse. Death also speaks to Dare, but he tries to ignore it. 

     Silver is the most complex of the characters. In book 1, Dare rescued her from years of painful loneliness, and now they're a mated team. Most fascinating for me is Silver's ability toas Dare calls it"switch." Silver is definitely a dominant alpha, but she can also revert to the personality she developed when she was on the run. Here, she demonstrates this ability to one of Dare's old friends: "She reached down into herself for the feeling she'd clutched to her when she'd run after first losing her wild self. Don't look at me, don't see me, don't stop me, don't remember me. I'm weak, too weak to bother with. She felt it slide into her muscles, making them tight as she tried to look smaller." (p 188) Silver uses this ability to deceive her enemies, making them underestimate her and giving her time to figure out a way to defeat them. Brains over brawnand it works every time.

     The first part of the book deals primarily with the initial attacks by Sacramento and the relationship problems between Susan and Seattle. The peak of the action and suspense comes during the Convocation, which brings together all of the U.S. pack leaders and their retinues. When Roanoke (aka Rory) brings Dare's Spanish in-laws to the Convocation, along with his long-lost daughter, Felicia, the situation becomes charged with danger and emotion. The climax comes when Dare's enemies turn to violence in order to defeat him. Dare and Silver remain true to themselves and true to one another as they face their enemies and come out on the other side in a manner that is totally unpredictableand which presents all kinds of possibilities for the next book(s).

     This continues to be a terrific seriesnever formulaic; always original. This is not a stereotypical alpha-driven paranormal series. These werewolves do have super-size and strength, but they aren't muscle-bound pretty boys and girls. There are no woo-woo magical powers and no other supernatural speciesno demons or vampires, for example. The author carefully constructs her story lines to highlight the development of her characters, providing a major pay-off for the reader. Click HERE to read an excerpt from Tarnished.

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