I liked the character of Fei. We find out she is a star pupil in the artists group and is seen as the successor to one of the elders in the village. However, Fei is concerned because she realizes her younger sister is slowly losing her sight and it worries her that if her sister cannot be an artist, she will eventually be thrown out to beg for food among the village. When Fei regains her hearing it was interesting how Mead showed how she dealt with hearing things for the first time. Her reactions to hearing birds, to sudden noises, to people screaming, etc. did have me immersed in this fantasy world. We can also see how Fei being challenged by her childhood sweetheart, Li Wei causes Fei to open her eyes more to the fact that how the village chooses to just blithely agree to demands for more minerals from the people below them in exchange for food is wrong. It's also wrong that the village does not allow miners, artists, or suppliers to inter-marry. Instead if you are an artist, you have to marry another artist. I had a lot of trouble with that one since Fei came from a family of miners and showed a talent for art as did her sister, so you would think someone would realize that was a dumb rule to keep insisting upon.
Most of the other characters are not developed very well in this story besides Fei, Li Wei, and Fei's sister. Everyone else seems to be pretty one dimensional.
When the story moves from the village after Fei regains her hearing, after the initial parts that fascinated Fei and Li Wei the whole story slowed down. I understood these were new and wondrous things to them (seeing a woman in head to foot yellow silk) but it got old after a while while these two signed to each other.
The writing was okay, but the fact that Mead chose to have the characters when "speaking" to each other have that text be in italics was hard to read after a while. I don't know if authors or others don't realize this. But having different fonts or text style right next to each other are hard to read after a while. My eyes felt like they were constantly readjusting and a few times I had to go back and re-read something because my eyes were skipping over words after a while. The book in middle also changed from a YA fantasy to a YA romance novel. There was a lot of Li Wei declaring himself to Fei and Fei shying away from it, but not really. I maybe sort of rolled my eyes a few times.
And before anyone yells at me, no I don't hate love or anything. But declaring your feelings while you have run away from your village and have soldiers out trying to track you down is definitely a let's wait for a second situation. At least that is to me.
The flow was off throughout the book. I think it's because once the book changes gears to Fei and Li Wei leaving the village, there was action, but there was also way too many information dumps being thrown my way while reading. We quickly find out what is going on with the food drops, what exactly is causing blindness in the village, and a myth thrown into boot. I maybe pulled my hair in frustration at this point.
The world building really needed to be better. I liked the idea of a village where no one could hear. But I don't think Mead played with the concept enough. And I really don't get why it was necessary that everyone was color-coded (artists wear blue for example, I cannot remember what colors everyone else wore). And the myth aspect comes out of nowhere and I would have loved more information about that way before we got to the end. I felt a little bit like it was hey there's this awesome thing that somehow can make everything better.
And the book pretty much ends with somehow everything is better, but there are still a lot of questions going on. I was glad to finish this, but I did struggle with it a few times here and there. This was almost a DNF for me just because I was having problems staying engaged with the story.