I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The heroes are dead. The villains have won. What now?
Black Canary: Breaking Silence, a DC Icons novel by Iranian author Alexandra Monir, tells a patriarchal dystopian story for teens. As DC fans may know, Dinah Lance is a hero, going by the alias the Black Canary, who is a part of the iconic crime-fighting superheroine team, the Birds of Prey. She uses her powerful voice to knock away or damage her foes. Monir cleverly used this motif of voice as power to explore feminist themes throughout the novel.
In this iteration of Dinah Lance’s backstory strives to explore the patriarchal nature of Gotham’s ruling powers, with Monir drawing from her Iranian background for information. The villains of days past won their fight against the caped crusaders and formed a new government in Gotham City called the Court of Owls. Although remaining heroes tried to fight against their rise to power, they were ultimately unsuccessful. When The Court’s rule proved to be oppressive against women, many female musicians stood up and attempted to fight against the power through protest music. This, too, proved to be unsuccessful, when Mayor Cobblepot (this novel’s version of the infamous Penguin) concocted a chemical that suppressed women’s abilities to sing or comprehend music. This cemented the Court’s rule over Gotham City and left the women of Gotham voiceless.
This is the world Dinah Lance, daughter of Dinah Drake and Larry Lance, knows. She has lived her whole life under the Court’s rule, her voice silenced and her song suppressed. She’s lived her whole life contemptuous towards the court and the book begins with a seemingly innocuous act of rebellion which marks her as a potential enemy of the court. Dinah has been obsessed with music and female singers her entire life- an affinity passed down to her from her deceased mother- and longs to hear women sing, make music, and express themselves. One day, she learns that she somehow has the ability to sing. With the help of her friends, her mother’s legacy as the former black canary, and the encouragement of the enchanting new kid, Oliver Queen, Dinah may gain the power to use her newfound voice to save Gotham.
Overall, this novel was a fun, quick read. I especially enjoyed the action scenes, which were masterfully crafted, making it feel like I was there with Dinah as she took hits and kicked ass. I also loved the ingenuity of this iteration of Gotham. It was a perspective that I think is rarely explored within the DC universe and it’s going to be an exciting read for any DC fan. It’s also written in a way that’s easy for non-DC fans to understand the complicated and often confusing lore behind these characters. The fresh, feminist perspective had a simple yet effective message to its audience: you have a voice, and it is powerful. Use it well.
The villains of the story, like the Talons, felt like genuine threats to the main characters’ well beings. They had me on the edge of my seat every time they appeared in a scene. I was, however, disappointed with the resolution. The threats that the Talons represented were so well established in early parts of the novel, and it was clear that they would not be easy foes to defeat. However, I felt as though Dinah’s ultimate triumph over both the Talons and the “undefeatable” Court of Owls came far too quickly with little buildup. The Court was all-powerful, and then they weren’t. I felt that the threat of the antagonists had gone to waste with a hastened ending.
In fact, many aspects of the pacing of the novel felt off. The climax and the resolution happened far too quickly and it felt disingenuous to have Dinah win so easily after such little training. Mysteries and intrigues that were stretched out over the course of the novel were resolved with simple exposition that had little emotional payoff.
This can be seen in the relationship between Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance. The courtship felt too sudden, the conflicts artificial, and the resolution haste. I also feel as though Oliver Queen’s character was mishandled in this version of his story. The famously flawed and complicated archer vigilante turned into a flawless YA love interest that made his character feel flat and two-dimensional.
Black Canary: Breaking Silence was an interesting and fun exploration of both Gotham City and patriarchal power structures. However, it could have benefited from more complicated explorations of its themes and characters, as well as better paced tensions and resolutions.
You can find a copy of the book on bookshop.org.