A Song for Quiet

      Publisher: Tor 

      RRP: £8.99

      Author: Cassandra Khaw 

      Published:  2017-08-29

 

 

 


Deacon James is a rambling bluesman straight from Georgia, a black man with troubles that he can't escape, and music that won't let him go. On a train to Arkham, he meets trouble — visions of nightmares, gaping mouths and grasping tendrils, and a madman who calls himself John Persons. According to the stranger, Deacon is carrying a seed in his head, a thing that will destroy the world if he lets it hatch.

The mad ravings chase Deacon to his next gig. His saxophone doesn't call up his audience from their seats, it calls up monstrosities from across dimensions. As Deacon flees, chased by horrors and cultists, he stumbles upon a runaway girl, who is trying to escape her father, and the destiny he has waiting for her. Like Deacon, she carries something deep inside her, something twisted and dangerous. Together, they seek to leave Arkham, only to find the Thousand Young lurking in the woods. 

The song in Deacon’s head is growing stronger, and soon he won’t be able to ignore it anymore.


 

A decent enough way to spend a couple of hours of your time.

 

A Song for Quiet is many things; it’s a statement on racism, it’s horror, it’s fantasy, but most of all it’s a love letter to music - so much so that the constant musical terminology in the story can become quite overpowering if you are not familiar with them. Reading this on a Kindle is useful, as the dictionary tool comes in quite handy.

Though no year is given, clues point to the mid to late 1950s as the period the story takes place in. The city is called Arkham, but had it been called New Orleans you wouldn’t notice the difference from the mood and scene set by the author. So good is the author’s descriptive language that you’ll have no problems, later in the story, seeing Deacon taking his seat on that small stage in the smoky, rundown club.

1950s and 1960s America was a setting of tremendous institutionalised racism, and the author handles significant scenes with those overtones well; whilst the N-word is not used (albeit perhaps erroneously) its spectre certainly hovers over the dialogue, leaving you in little doubt that it is there in the minds of the white characters. This is fine example of a writer playing with a word knife and not getting slashed; historically  accurate or not, it’s refreshing that Khaw hasn’t peppered the page with a word that so many other writers, usually white, are very quick to employ. As powerful and memorable as these scenes are, however, it all falls a little by the wayside as the bizarre horror story unfolds.

On that sad train journey home, Deacon is infected; not by the bite of vampire or zombie, but by a song – a song that pops into Deacon’s head despite him never having heard it before. Suddenly he is being followed wherever he goes by a strange man that he meets on the train. A man who goes by the name of John Persons, who makes it quite plain that he wants what Deacon has in his head. This leads to a chase through Arkham where Deacon meets the Cello-playing girl Ana, who in turn has her own strange song to bring to life. Now, both Ana and Deacon are pursued by Persons, with the chase reaching an end with a duet to end all duets and the fate of the world being the ultimate prize.

Creating the perfect balance of characterisation and story within a space as short as 112 pages was never going to be easy, and unfortunately Khaw doesn’t quite get there; whilst the tale does build the plot almost from page one, and whilst the character of Deacon is well fleshed out and likeable, less focus is given to the book’s other two protagonists and with characters that interesting that decision feels like a loss. There is some great imagery in the book but imagery isn’t everything, and it needs to have a strong story to back it up; sadly, the story here just isn’t strong enough and at a certain point it becomes too messy and convoluted.

Mostly, the issue is with the ending. The events themselves are easy enough to understand but the prose never quite adequately portrays the enormity of the situation, with the scenes themselves not quite touching the imagination as well or as vividly as the some of the earlier ones do. That said, however, A Song for Quiet is still for the most part an enjoyable one-sitting read, especially if you’re either familiar with musical terminology or happy to look it up in a dictionary every few sentences. It’s a decent enough way to spend a couple of hours of your time, and the author will be worth revisiting in future works.


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