Review: Whisper Gatherers by Nicola McDonagh

Whisper Gatherers (Song of Forgetfulness, #1)Whisper Gatherers by Nicola J. McDonagh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having read both Echoes from the Lost Ones and then the following A Silence Heard, I was excited to hear McDonagh had written a prequel. Whisper Gatherers takes us back to NotSoGreatAlbion but in the days prior to Deogol’s abduction. As much as EftLO and ASH were chock full of a world far different than the one we know, this book retains that sense of foreign futurism although with a familiarity to it that comes from the necessity of having read the first (or last?) two. We already know who Adara is and what she can do, and even what happens in the days following so there’s no surprise plot wise. What we don’t know is exactly how it all happened or what Adara’s life was like before Echoes dropped us into her head as she was roaming the forest outside Cityplace.
McDonagh introduces us to the heart of Adara’s personal development in this prequel. Living in a sterile environment that goes to extreme lengths to protect its citizens from germs, Cityplace ironically breeds what I call the “sheeple” virus. Adara stands out from this culture amid whispers about her name and what it means for a metropolis just beginning to feel the effects of the Agros severance of food supplies. Names are of particular importance in this dystopian saga; your name is who you are, as if to name your true essence or some inner attribute. Her name-sake ability of calling down the birds, those last forms of wild life containing edible meat on their bones, is either the promise of salvation or a dire threat to the power of the Agro overlords. An introvert by nature and generally shunned by her peers, this sudden exposure sets her on guard, leaving her feeling vulnerable. She covers this by a rough sort of bravado that, in the subsequent books, we see get worn down and eventually scoured away as events take their course.
Deogol’s story is expanded upon. We finally get to meet him in his natural habitat although by the time we do, he’s already deeper into the intrigue than anyone previously imagined. I do wish McDonagh had elaborated more on what Meeks really are or what sets them apart from others. It might have set Deogol’s supposed marked difference from the rest a little clearer if she had.
It was a real pleasure to see Adara’s relationship with Santy Breanna before any of the impending chaos breaks out. The maternal bonding with a woman who didn’t birth either of these children but took them in when it was needed of her and Adara’s adoration of her was refreshing. I don’t know if I missed it in previous books but the acronym S.A.N.T. finally gets a much appreciated explanation. GreatGramGram was a hoot, swinging back and forth between addled octogenarian and wily woman remembering her adventurous youth.
A few points to note on the downside: There were a few points in the writing that felt contrived, meant only to explain how Adara obtains all the items she ends up with on the trail. It’s not that these details are insignificant; it was simply in the way they were delivered. At one point Adara, when questioned by someone on how she got something whose details weren’t previously mentioned, says “Oh! I grabbed it when=…” A smoother deliverance would have kept my radar a little more fully engaged.
Strange, special attention seems to be given to Adara’s digestive tract and reproductive system, the details of her restroom visits overly descriptive. I wondered why they were included, feeling like empty space filler between scenes of character interaction or battle descriptions.
I don’t think I noticed it in the other two books but this text has a bad tendency to wander into passive voice. Adara speaks from a place of witnessing events as they happen but never gives secondary or tertiary characters any possession of their actions. This left me feeling like I wasn’t meant to connect with these people as anyone other than role-fillers and background chatters. In live role playing, they call these characters “non-playing characters” or “NPCs”. People you don’t pay attention to. This wouldn’t be so bad except that some of these NPCs were actually playing characters like Orva, the S.A.N.T. guard that sticks by Adara from beginning to end of the story.
Taking those negatives into account, Whisper Gatherers is great introduction to Adara’s story. It doesn’t have the same oomph for me that Echoes from the Lost Ones had where the world of NotSoGreatAlbion was still this dark territory waiting to be cast into light. However, what it does hold is a trove of beginnings, of glimpses into how the world disintegrated and sterile cities like Cityplace came to exist as sterile bastions against the threat of bacterial infection. It gives us a bigger picture to behold: the eternal battle between man and nature, and man’s determination to conquer it at all costs. For me it raised more questions than it was meant to answer so my question to McDonagh now is “will there be more?”

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