Sarah Rees Brennan
Random House Children’s / September 11, 2012 / $18.99 print, $10.99 digital
Kami Glass is in love with someone she’s never met—a boy she’s talked to in her head since she was born. This has made her an outsider in the sleepy English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale, but she has learned ways to turn that to her advantage. Her life seems to be in order, until disturbing events begin to occur. There has been screaming in the woods and the manor overlooking the town has lit up for the first time in 10 years. . . . The Lynburn family, who ruled the town a generation ago and who all left without warning, have returned. Now Kami can see that the town she has known and loved all her life is hiding a multitude of secrets—and a murderer. The key to it all just might be the boy in her head. The boy she thought was imaginary is real, and definitely and deliciously dangerous.
I love young adult fiction, and I love Gothics, so I had no choice but to read Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan. Though primarily a Gothic, it’s really a mix of sub-genres: a story about teenagers investigating a mystery for their school newspaper; romance that’s equal parts angst and humorous banter; and of course the mystery and romance of uncovering dark familial issues that no one wants to speak about. However, the fusion works!
The result is an entertaining read with some clever angles on its various sub-genres. The main romantic pairing brought to mind Nick and Nora Charles, if by chance they had happened upon a weird manor house, and had psychic powers—this novel also has an element that reminded me of Mary Stewart’s Touch Not the Cat, in which a young man and a young woman share a mysterious psychic connection. I won’t spoil that aspect here.
The Gothic elements of the novel center on the Lynburns, the richest and most aristocratic of the inhabitants of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Of course the Lynburns own a huge and crumbling manor. When the novel opens, the surviving Lynburns have all left the village for America under unclear circumstances, so all protagonist Kami Glass knows of them is local legend.
Sorry-in-the-Vale’s records date back to the 1400s. Six hundred years do not go by without someone doing something nefarious. The Lynburns are the town’s founding family, and we all know what the lords of the manor get up to. Ravishing the peasants, burning their humble cottages. Fox hunting. The list goes on and on.
Kami has her own mystifying aspect. All her life, she has had an imaginary friend with whom she has long conversations. She shares everything with him, up to a point.
…She only got bits and pieces of what [he] was thinking, especially since last summer. She thought of it as their decision: Kami had found it was easier to act like he was real and they both made the rules.
…Kami did not feel comfortable talking about [his] mother, but she knew they didn’t have a good relationship. She also knew it was irrational and illogical and insane to worry about his family troubles. It was insane to care so much in the first place. He was a voice in her head, after all…
Then the Lynburns return to Sorry-in-the-Vale, including two teenage boys, Ash and Jared, cousins who do not like each other at all, but both are interested in Kami. Both provide elements of potentially-dangerous romance, as is appropriate to a Gothic.
“My name’s Ash Lynburn.”
…Light flooded down the corridor, lending his hair a sheen of hazy brightness. “Sorry-in-the-Vale is where we belong,” he answered, and for the first time he did not sound calm and lighthearted. He sounded as if he was making a promise, one he intended to keep. “We’re going to stay here forever.”
…the new boy’s head turned. The sun was still in her eyes, but she thought he grinned at her over his shoulder. His teeth were dark with blood. “Hell of a first day,” he said.
…They were alike enough to be brothers, but in this case the fairy-tale prince had been cast into shadow and ruin. Jared literally looked like Ash under a shadow: Ash with a tan, darker blond hair, and dark gray eyes with odd, cold lights in them. Crazy eyes, Holly had said. Cutting across his left cheek, from cheekbone to chin, was a long white scar.
Unspoken is a story that winds through several sub-genres in an entertaining fashion, particularly if you like light banter and fun twists on old tropes, including a hero and heroine who sometimes seem to switch back and forth between the roles they would have had in a traditional Gothic.
Unspoken might be a difficult novel to categorize, but for me that didn’t matter – reading it was an adventure, and a great deal of fun.
Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories. Her World War One-set Spice Brief from Harlequin is titled “Under Her Uniform” and is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.