Voiceless #1. Author: E.G. Wilson. E-copy provided by publisher for review, through Netgalley.
Adelaide Te Ngawai was thirteen when Maunga Richards stole her voice.
Addy is plunged into silence when a high school bully inflicts her with an incurable disease that leaves her unable to speak, write, or create. Vox Pox—a man-made malady that’s been terrorizing the city for months. Resilient, Addy fights to survive. To not be silenced. But then her brother, Theo, is infected as well.
Desperate for any information that might help cure Theo, Addy follows Maunga into a newly developed virtual psychoreality simulator and discovers a conspiracy deeper than she’d ever imagined. How far will she go to save her brother?
Vox Pox, the artificial disease Addy is infected with right at the beginning, is a truly alarming illness. One touch of a needle, and Addy loses her voice, her creativity… and effectively, her life. She has no idea where to go from here or what she’s going to do with the rest of her life.
Whether or not such a disease is realistic is beside the point of Voiceless, I think. Although it’s a sci-fi setting, the focus is on character, and the story is about Addy. About her struggle with depression and isolation after being inflicted with a devastating disease. About her resilience and stubborness as she fights for life again. And about her selflessness when she figures out what she can do to save others… and what she’d have to sacrifice for it.
If you can’t tell, I like Addy.
She spends a good part of the story alone in a psychologically-created virtual reality world, where the laws of physics need not apply and the house she travels through is indicative of her worst nightmares. It’s an unusual choice: frustrating for both reader and character. Addy isn’t getting anywhere, as far as she can tell. She might even be going in circles. There’s no way to tell how long she’s been here, how far she’s gone, or how far she still has to go. Sometimes she regresses. Sometimes she leaps forward, and doesn’t understand why. Stubborn as ever, determined to make it through, she keeps going, and going, and going. She climbs the endless stairs, and traverses countless hallways, and when there’s no other way forward she jumps into the (literal) chasm that opened before her. And then – finally – she finds the door out. It’s heavy-handed as metaphors go, yet still an amazing visualization of many internal struggles.
The conflict is a mix of internal and external. Addy versus herself, to a certain extent; but then there’s also the outsiders she’s fighting. Someone infected her with Vox Pox. Exactly who she’s fighting in the end is a spoiler, but there is a reveal, and something of a show-down. And I will say this: I love the execution of the antagonists. A real villain is complex on their own, not just a cardboard cut-out of evil or misunderstood good. The most dangerous villains firmly believe in the justice of what they do.
I don’t know if the sequel will be as good – there’s potential for Drama and Action for the sake of action, rather than the somewhat more tangled threads that made this a thoughtful read – but here’s hoping. I’ll read it.
Sexual Content: Editing a school paper, “under-stimulate should be underestimate, or at least I assume so, unless you’re writing something not entirely appropriate for a school assignment.” Character says his job is club stripper.
Violence: Character gouges his arm open on bolt (in need of blood). Mention of a boy who commited suicide. One character deliberately infects another with a disease.