"The Silvered" is a fantasy novel with some very original twists on classic tropes relating to Werewolves and Mages. It also confronts the evil that can be generated when the actions of an insane leader are left unchecked in the interests of political and economic stability.
"The Silvered" is set in a world where werewolves (The Pack - male and mostly military) and Mages (The Mage Pack -female, gifted with scents that the Pack find irresistible and with a talent of Air, Earth, Water, Fire, Metal or Healing magic) form the ruling class of a small country that is being invaded by the ever-expanding Empire, a military state on the edge of its industrial revolution, that is just being to develop weapons that allow large scale killing from a distance.
Tanya Huff does a very good job of making her readers rethink their assumption in this book. Science is made to seem unnatural and somehow inhuman compared to the use of magic. Men who turn into wolves and the women who marry them, bear their children and support them through the use of magic, are made to seem civilised and honourable, while the human soldiers who come to rid the world of these "abominations" are made to seem brutish and or unthinking.
Tanya Huff uses the book to explore the use and abuse of power. She asks whether some things are simply wrong and not to be tolerated no matter what the cost of opposing them. She shows the way in which evil is unleashed when we dehumanise or demonise our enemies, turning them into things so that we can abuse and kill them with self-righteous impunity. She makes us consider the nature of duty and loyalty, the limits to following orders and whether it is treason to stand up to evil when it is being committed by your own Head of State.
The main characters are wonderfully drawn, both as people and as archetypes. Miriam, a Mage of apparently very little power, who takes on the Empire because it has to be done and she was the only one there, is brave without being heroic. Danika, the Alpha of the Mage Pack, who refuses to be give in to fear, pain, imprisonment or torture because she has a responsibility to the people she leads is not a fearless leader but she is a brave one. Captain Reiter, an Imperial soldier who knows the difference between what must be done in combat and what must not be accepted in everyday life and who can't help acting on what he knows. Then there is the beautifully wrought and horribly real evil of the Emperor: charming, charismatic, educated, gifted with an insatiable curiosity, in love with the scientific method and utterly, irredeemably insane.
Captain Reiter, forced to spend time in the Emperor's company, captures the chilling danger of the Emperor when he observes that the Emperor
"...didn't sound crazy when he talked. He sounded rationale. Scientific. Smart... When he talked, it was hard to remember what he meant."
I don't want to give the impression that "The Silvered" is a didactic work. It is first and foremost a wonderfully written, tightly plotted, edge of the seat, Fantasy novel. Tanya Huff effortlessly masters telling the story from multiple points of view, pulling the threads together with just the right amount of tension and making me care about each of the characters the story is told through. The world-building is first-rate, crammed with original ideas but never pushing so far into the foreground that the world eclipses the people who live in it.
I originally bought the audiobook version of "The Silvered" but I sent it back and bought the ebook version instead because I just couldn’t listen to Dee Macaluso murdering the text. What a shame that Marguerite Gavin, who did a great job with the "Confederation" novels wasn't given "The Silvered" to narrate.