Black Canary: Breaking Silence (Alexandra Monir)

Black Canary: Breaking Silence is a novel by Alexandra Monir. It is part of the DC Icons novels.
Finished on: 16.4.2022
[Here are my reviews of the other DC Icons novels.]

Content Note: cissexism/gender plague

Dinah Lance lives in Gotham City under the rule of the Owl Council who have made sure that the women in Gotham City don’t have a voice – figuratively, but also literally: singing is outlawed for women, and has been made physically impossible, much to Dinah’s chagrin. She dreams of singing, and of the one time she is sure she remembers hearing a girl sing when she was a child. When she and her friends Ty and Mandy try to find out more about the female singers of the past, Dinah gets in deep trouble though, drawing the attention of the Owl Council, with worse consequences only avoided through the intervention of her cop father Larry. Dinah should be keeping her head down under the circumstances, but with an old friend of her dead mother, Barbara Gordon, making an appearance, and new and very cute student Oliver Queen arriving at her school, Dinah can’t help but continue to question the way things are. And maybe she can find her voice after all.

Black Canary: Breaking Silence takes a very different approach from the other novels in the DC Icons series so far, setting its story decades in the future in an dystopian version of Gotham. While that’s interesting, a lot of it seems a little half-baked and not quite thought through, making it a little disappointing despite its obvious(ly) feminist mission.

The book cover showing a drawn blond girl with bandages across her mouth, a black canary on the shoulder of her torn leather jacket.

I got Black Canary: Breaking Silence without reading much about it. I just saw that it’s a new DC Icons novel and went for it. Had I realized that it was a “gender plague” book (as Ana Mardoll calls them), I probably would have skipped it entirely. But here we are: all the girls and women in the novel have been treated with some kind of gas that makes it impossible for them to sing. While the book pretends that this is science, not magic, it gives us no explanation as to how the gas works. Not even when it is administered – at birth, every time a vulva is seen? Or is it something that is inherited from the first women who were subjected to the gas? In the end, it can be treated with the help of vocal chord tissue that hasn’t been exposed to the gas. Make of that what you will.

And those are just the questions that arise if you accept the premises that a) girls and women can be biologically distinguished from boys and men, and there is no non-binariness in the world which is not how gender (or sex, if you want to make that distinction) work and b) that a similar distinction can be made between talking and singing. Let me tell you that is equally impossible. Is Leonard Cohen talking or singing? What is rapping? Where is the line between reciting poetry and singing?

I’d be willing to let the gas thing go, if the rest made sense, but it doesn’t. An d it reproduces harmful cissexism. Plus, the world building wasn’t all that clear apart from that either. I never knew whether the Owl Court is a local thing, or whether it extends over the entirety of the United States. If the latter, why is everything so damn concentrated in Gotham? Plus, what is with the rest of the world? I kind of doubt that in the age of internet, nobody around Dinah has ever heard or seen a female singer from someplace else.

I really struggled with those things, and it took away my enjoyment from a book that is obviously trying very hard to be feminist and to send out a message of empowertment to young girls. All things I generally appreciate a lot. I also was a little disappointed that most of the central characters were white, especially given that Monir is Iranian-American herself and could have drawn on that experience.

The book is engaging enough and a quick read, but I couldn’t look past its problems.

Summarizing: wish it had been different.

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