Buy Speechless in Achten Tan Here!
Have you ever been on a family holiday as a kid and then revisited that same place years later? Stood looked out over the seafront and thought, “Hang on a minute, I remember this”? Half-forgotten memories of arcades, ice cream shops and the like are suddenly thrown into vivid clarity as you pass these places once again?
I know I have, a good few times in fact, and reading Speechless in Achten Tan gave me this feeling so strongly that it almost felt as if I were visiting the titular city myself!
See, Speechless is a full-length fantasy story that acts as something of a connecting path through many of the significant events chronicled in Tales From the Year Between Volume 1: Land of Dust and Bone, an anthology of short stories that kicked off the ongoing series compiled by Skullgate Media and incorporating the work of many very talented writers (and myself in volume 3, somehow). Writer Debbie Iancu-Haddad not only contributed her stories and skills to Achten Tan but also went back for a second bite with Speechless, weaving several stories together with the adventures of Mila, a gnome mage from the algae-encrusted caverns beneath the Everfall.
As the title suggests, Mila is unable to speak, her voice sealed away until she can gain mastery of her magical abilities, but a tragedy in her past is making this already difficult feat nigh on impossible, forcing her mentor, or Nora, to send her off to an acquaintance in Achten Tan who may be able to help her. I was intrigued as to how the author would work around the fact that Mila cannot speak, how she would interact with other characters and keep the prose flowing – but the solution is rather clever. Mila has various generic responses tattooed across her body, obvious ones like yes, no, maybe, friend etc, as well as a few less obvious ones and even some curse words and insults, such as a particularly fun one tattooed on the underside of her chin! She also communicates using sign language when she can. The results of all this pointing at tattoos and signing are conveyed back to the reader as italicised dialogue – it’s all rather clever!
While Mila is prepared to go to great lengths, including planning a heist, to regain her powers, she wouldn’t get anywhere without her friends. Speechless builts its roster of characters like a party in Dungeons & Dragons or Mass Effect – each friend Mila meets has strengths, weaknesses and strong opinions and personality traits, they all have different takes on not only Mila but each other as well, resulting in some great character-building as the story progresses. Even initially two-dimensional characters like the egotistical Kaii soon turn out to be more than is initially perceived, so that one more page mentality is fostered by their ongoing stories.
The final thing I’d like to point out is that Speechless is very LGBTQ-representative, which should come as no surprise if you know anything at all about Debbie or SKullgate Media’s prior work. It’s always nice to see a fantasy universe which has an inclusive and diverse cast of characters, so this is definitely a feather in its cap!
If you’re looking for a fun, action-packed read with strong diversity and good inter-character relationships then you can’t really go wrong with this one!
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