Review: Hush by Dylan Farrow

Graceling meets Red Queen in this exciting debut novel by an electrifying new voice

Hush has all the trappings of a great fantasy: a curse, a labyrinthine castle, many secrets, and powerful magic. At the center of it all, a girl unwilling to allow her world to be twisted by lies when she knows the truth. A truly gripping read.” – Emily A. Duncan, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked Saints

They use magic to silence the world. Who will break the hush?

Seventeen-year-old Shae has led a seemingly quiet life, joking with her best friend Fiona, and chatting with Mads, the neighborhood boy who always knows how to make her smile. All while secretly keeping her fears at bay… Of the disease that took her brother’s life. Of how her dreams seem to bleed into reality around her. Of a group of justice seekers called the Bards who claim to use the magic of Telling to keep her community safe.

When her mother is murdered, she can no longer pretend.

Not knowing who to trust, Shae journeys to unlock the truth, instead finding a new enemy keen to destroy her, a brooding boy with dark secrets, and an untold power she never thought possible.

From Dylan Farrow comes Hush, a powerful fantasy where one girl is determined to remake the world.

Title: Hush | Series: Hush | Author: Dylan Farrow | Publisher: Wednesday Books | Pub Date: 6/10/2020 | Pages: 384 | ISBN13: 978-1250235909 | Genre: Young Adult Fantasy| Language: English | Source: NetGalley| Starred Review

Hush Review

“No one wants to listen. The truth is too great a risk to take over stability.”

Hush is one of the sharpest commentaries of our time, packaged as a spellbinding fantasy story in a realm filled with compliant citizens who are at the mercy of the Bards, the religious leaders who govern Montane. The citizens are also at the mercy of the land, which is dying. Drought plagues the region where Shae grew up, and it’s harder and harder for the local people to produce crops.

Shae’s life was forever altered when her brother died of the Blot. Her mother never speaks again, and she and Shae barely survive on their limited means. They are condemned and ostracized because their family was touched by the mysterious illness.

Things are happening to Shae, and in a world where simply uttering certain words can lead to punishment or even death, she is terrified. She doesn’t understand what’s going on and has no one to turn to. When she hears the Bards are coming, she swaps roles with her one good friend, Fiona, and heads to town to try to ask for their help.

She witnesses a horrific act when a young child turns his grandfather in for talking about forbidden things and the whole town hears the old man’s cries as his tongue is cut out. Then Shae is recognized, and it jeopardizes her mission. She does get a chance to speak to the Bards, but she never gets help.

When her mother is murdered everyone wants her to forget and move on, but she can’t. She is determined to get answers, and this is the catalyst for her journey.

Hush does follow a quest structure. Shae must overcome obstacles and deal with enemies and friends along the way. It isn’t always easy to tell the difference between her enemies and friends, either. She has to navigate new environments and undo some of the indoctrination she’s lived with her entire life. This prompts her to grow, but she remains human and relatable. Often, when a character is blessed with some gift or ability, they quickly master it and use it to right wrongs or restore order. Not here. Shae is like a toddler learning how to walk, and she stumbles along the way, which makes her more relatable and believable. She has been called out for being headstrong and impulsive, and she also struggles to learn to think things through so that she won’t put people in jeopardy and so that she can achieve her goals. She is a flawed but determined character that is relatable and believable.

One of the things that is appealing about this story is the very healthy friendship that Shae has with Fiona. There’s no sense that Fiona is cruel, although she is very pretty and popular. She easily supports Shae’s potential relationship with Mads and helps her friend when asked. Although the two do argue, she finds a way to let Shae know she still cares about her and wants what’s best for her. It is refreshing to see a story that focuses on a healthy female friendship instead of a competitive/harmful scenario. And, although Shae’s later conflict with Kennan could initially seem to be due to pettiness, the author has a number of revelations in store that make it clear it’s far more complicated than that.

This work does one of the things that compelling fantasies must do effectively. It provides a sense of completion to this story and arc, while laying the foundation for a potential continuation of the story. 

Hush features superb worldbuilding with captivating characters whose arcs intersect and compliment the core story. Although the entire story is told from Shae’s perspective, the stories of Ravod, Kennan, Cathal, Fiona and Mads all intertwine with her story and contribute to the core plot or to her character arc. Farrow has done an exceptional job of immersing readers into Shae’s world and investing them in her mission. And, like the best stories, there are more truths Shae may uncover that go far beyond the one answer she initially seeks, yet every revelation feels earned because of the depth of worldbuilding, character development and deft foreshadowing that is woven into the fabric of the story so naturally it’s not always noticeable. In the hands of a less talented writer there may have been a temptation to repeat and underscore key information that will matter later, but Farrow trusts the reader to pick up the threads and make the appropriate connections later.

While it’s obvious Hush can be considered a commentary on contemporary politics and global warming, readers could also argue Farrow uses Hush to comment on gaslighting. There’s no doubt Hush underscores the importance of truth and free speech. It’s clear from the narrative that silencing people is a form of oppression. 

This is a work of fiction that seems born from the author’s experience, and Farrow includes a personal note at the end addressing this. However, as a YA novel, many teens may not be familiar with Farrow’s story, and that will not affect their ability to enjoy this novel fully or to understand the importance of the issues she tackles. Some authors lose sight of the story in their attempt to impart a moral, but that is never the case here. Farrow’s work never lets up or loses sight of Shae and her journey. It is completely engaging, and the fact that it makes some subtle but effective social commentary only makes it more powerful. 

5/5 stars and more, please. Now.

This review first appeared at Sci Fi & Scary.

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