Picture a world where women just don’t have a voice. It’s disheartening to realize that it’s not too much of a stretch from reality, but just picture it. Take your childhood heroes, make them young again, throw them into a dystopia set in Gotham City, and you have the heady recipe for Alexandra Monir’s newest novel, Black Canary: Breaking Silence.
Black Canary is an age-old superhero, first introduced to DC comics in 1947. Originally, Dinah Lance is the first Black Canary, and her daughter, Dinah Laurel, is cursed with a ‘sonic scream’. Later on, when Dinah is on her deathbed, Superman and Thunderbolt transfer her memories to her daughter, resulting in the Black Canary being reborn. There’s another reboot in 2011 where she becomes the founder of Birds of Prey and gets with The Green Arrow. In the 2016 Rebirth, she partners with Batgirl and Huntress to form Birds of Prey again.
Her superpowers revolve around the use of her voice, known as the ‘canary cry’. The ‘canary cry’ is a supersonic scream, that can damage organic and inorganic objects. She’s able to shatter metal elements with her voice, making the enforced ‘silence’ that much more harmful for her. Dinah also finding her voice in this scenario is especially telling, and ties into how powerful her voice can be. In this novel, Dinah goes beyond the ‘canary cry’. She relies on the power of music, and how powerful and inspiring music can be.
DC Comics have undergone multiple rewrites, featuring new universes, different timelines, and new introductions.
What stayed consistent in Alexandra Monir’s amazing novel is that Black Canary, a.k.a Dinah Lance, is three things. She’s an incredible fighter, she has an otherworldly voice, and is her mother’s daughter. Part of her lore is that she carries the tradition forward, and carries on her mother’s (the original Black Canary’s) spirit. It’s a theme that I love, and it was a pleasant surprise to see female characters ‘carrying on the family tradition’. It’s a trope that’s welcome on women but vastly overplayed on men.
The story revolves around Dinah Laurel Lance, a 17-year old girl who lives in Gotham City. Currently, the city is taken over by one of Gotham’s villains, who then established a heavily patriarchal court, nicknamed the ‘court of Owls’. The ‘owls’ then injected all women with a serum that prevented them from singing, literally taking their songs away. Stuck in a world where patriarchal propaganda is taught in schools, where women are excluded from most places, and where music is a crime, Dinah finds herself longing for a time before the Owls when superheroes still existed. Discovering that she has a voice, that she can do the unthinkable – she can sing – she decides to step forward. Armed with her voice, her fellow members of Gotham City, and a new friend in town, she’s determined to take on the Court of Owls and bring down the evil court. It’s up to her to bring Gotham back.
When it comes right down to it, Black Canary: Breaking Silence is a wonderful blend of YA dystopia and superheroes. It’s a coming-of-age tale that takes place in Gotham that’s run by a patriarchal court of Owls, and the revolution rests on a young adult who finds her voice in a sea of silence. Though we see Dinah Laurel at her lowest moment, we also see her rise to the challenges of the court of Owls, and her fight to bring Gotham back to its former glory. I especially liked the calling to Gotham’s former villains, ones brought down by superheroes (male and female alike).
Fans of the Arrow universe will be excited to know that Oliver Queen makes an entrance into this novel too.
One of the things I loved was the consistency the author maintained with the superhero: Monir kept in Black Canary’s favorites and re-created crucial relationships with each of them. It provided a whole new layer of understanding to the novel and is fun to read as a fan of DC heroes, too. Monir brings in fan favorites, and fans of Birds of Prey will be excited to see them feature in this novel as well. Characters that are crucial to Black Canary’s rise make their entry, further cementing the fact that Black Canary, though powerful, grew with the help of others.
Superhero stories hit different with women in charge. Whether it’s because they creatively challenge the patriarchy, or because they constantly prove their worth, I’m a sucker for a badass woman. Dinah Laurel Lance, here, is a young, badass woman. She picks up from where her mother left off and manages to fight the patriarchy in her own unique way – through the power of song.
Monir’s own history as a singer works very well here because you can sense her love for music; she even wrote songs for the novel. Music is definitely a powerful, influential tool to use, and it’s one that’s not often talked about in books. I love how Black Canary is a new rewrite, yet still the same beloved character. The book is different to other YA dystopias that I’ve seen before, and it’s a very refreshing change.
Black Canary: Breaking Silence is set to release on December 29, and The Tempest will also be doing an Instagram live with the author on December 18th, for the Tempest Book Club. Check out IG for details. Hope to see you there!
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