By Christina Farley
~Warning! Contains spoilers!~
SILVERN is the second book in new author Christina Farley’s Gilded series about young teenager Jae Hwa, who moves to South Korea to live with her father and gets embroiled in a battle between the Korean gods of light and darkness. I saw that this book has been recommended for Common Core educators on Amazon.com, and I agree: it is a safe, culturally interesting tale that will hopefully spark middle schoolers’ curiosity about South Korea. Jae Hwa is quite a memorable heroine and the plot is engaging. Unfortunately, the supporting cast doesn’t shine as brightly as Jae Hwa does, and the mythological explanation for Korea’s split into North and South Korea is questionable.
Jae Hwa’s world has turned upside down since she defeated Haemosu, the devious sun god who tried to make her his bride. Her aunt is gone, and now Haemosu’s master, Kud, the god of darkness, is trying to bring Jae Hwa to his cause…or kill her and those she loves. Kud is trying to find a mythical artifact, the White Tiger Orb, and Jae Hwa must stop him along with her lackluster friends: Marc, her boyfriend; Michelle, her chatty school friend; and Kang-dae, one of the guardians of Shinshi.
It sounds action-packed, and the plot definitely flies along. I loved Jae Hwa’s blossoming relationship with her estranged grandfather, and her lost aunt still had a distinct influence in her life. However, I continue to remain disinterested in Jae Hwa and Marc’s relationship. Marc feels incredibly out of place in the otherwise lavish world Farley has created, and I have a hard time buying that he is so effortlessly assimilated into Korean culture; likewise, he has a rather bland personality. Kang-dae could have made things interesting, but it was always clear that he was never a real contender for Jae Hwa’s heart. Michelle is probably the most endearing of Jae Hwa’s companions, but she needs to be able to contribute more directly to the action. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, it’s always difficult to include non-magical human characters into a paranormal world without them becoming boring.
One of the biggest faults is the handling of North Korea’s existence. Jae Hwa and her friends must infiltrate North Korea to find the White Tiger Orb, and are able to do so by bringing medicine to a village on an approved school field trip. The idea that a high school would approve such a high stakes trip on short notice is laughable, but the more pressing issue is how the Korean state split is described as being due to Kud, the god of darkness. American and Soviet forces are not mentioned at all, despite their considerable agendas for the region. North and South Korea have since developed their own ideologies and ways of life. The idea of reconciliation is still highly controversial, and too complicated a topic to attribute to “Korea will reunite once Kud is defeated.” This speaks to how this book keeps things safe for a middle school audience, but if the book is going to recognize the split, then more care should have been paid to addressing why it did so and not explain it away as an ancient battle between gods.
Despite some shortcomings, overall Silvern is a truly enjoyable read, and I loved the appearance of the mythical white tiger and anything to do with Korean lore! This is too rare of a featured culture in YA fiction, and it’s incredibly fresh and exciting to read about in a genre overrun by angsty vampires and horny werewolves. The ending was incredibly well-done, and I look forward to how Jae Hwa’s choice plays out in the third and final (?) book of the series, Brazen.
Recommended for fans of: Julie Kagawa, Rick Riordan, Colleen Houck
Upcoming Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab