Black Canary: Breaking Silence offers a dystopian origin for the DC heroine

BLACK CANARY: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir. Image courtesy Random House Books for Young Readers
BLACK CANARY: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir. Image courtesy Random House Books for Young Readers /

The latest installment in the YA-focused DC Icons series, Alexandra Monir’s Black Canary: Breaking Silence reimagines a dystopian origin story for fan-favorite Dinah Lance.

The DC icons series of YA novels launched in 2017, and aims to tell stories about the iconic comic book heroes as teenagers and young adults. On paper, this move was simply to draw more fans into the DC fold, but also because there are simply some sorts of stories that can only be told when our protagonists are only just starting out on their journeys.

This series has featured some of the biggest names in YA fiction thus far, including Sarah J. Maas, Leigh Bardugo, Marie Lu, and has told the stories of iconic DC figures like Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and Catwoman. The latest installment focuses on Dinah Lance, the hero known as Black Canary – and, incidentally, is also the first novel ever based on the iconic character.

But Black Canary: Breaking Silence may not be the origin story you expected – in all the best ways. Author Alexandra Monir reimagines Gotham City as a repressive dystopian nightmare and casts Dinah as the feminist heroine we’ve all been waiting for – and that she deserves to be seen as.

A fast-paced, twisty adventure with just enough callbacks to the DC world we know to make this new version enticing, you’ll find Monir’s tale hard to put down. Sure, this isn’t the Dinah we recognize from the comics, exactly. But it’s a version of her you’ll love just as much.

This version of Gotham City has a lot more in common with The Handmaid’s Tale than the DC comics world we’re familiar with. In it, the mysterious elite organization known as the Court of Owls has transformed the city into a dystopian, Gilead-esque nightmare, in which women have been stripped of the majority of their rights.

Women are forbidden from holding certain jobs, wearing certain fashions, education beyond high school, and even the act of singing. Thanks to a city-wide known as the Silencing, their voices have literally been stolen from them via a gas developed by the Cobblepot family. Superheroes, who once protected, the city, have vanished, and things are generally pretty bleak.

Seventeen-year-old Dina Lance is frustrated by the world she inhabits – and misses the one she doesn’t remember. Her mother, who died when she was small is just a part of that. She’s obsessed with the idea of music and singing, even though she’s never heard it herself. Except once, when she was young – she remembers hearing a voice raised in song, but everyone, including her police chief father, tells her it couldn’t have happened that way.

Dinah’s obsession with music – and her search for a mysterious hidden location known as the Vault of Voices – eventually puts her on the Court of Owls’ radar, and starts her on a path to taking on a whole new legacy. Because her mom had a secret life, and Dinah has abilities she never imagined possible.

To be fair, there are multiple beats of this story that are deeply predictable – and as Dinah slowly discovers that she is immune to the effects of the gas that caused the Silencing and can use her voice as a weapon, you always sort of know where things are going. (And I could do without Dinah’s foray into songwriting – the ballad she pens about her budding relationship with Oliver Queen is…well, a thing that happens that I would very much like to forget.)

Yet, the novel’s pace is so propulsively fun and Dinah such a likable heroine, with a ferocious spirit and a youthful anger at injustice that perhaps feels more necessary than ever these days. It’s easy to just get caught up and enjoy the ride along with her. Occasional fast-paced, cinematic-like sequences – like when the Court of Owls army of supersoldiers known as Talons show up to a public function and threaten citizens or when Dinah attempts to infiltrate Arkham Asylum – are entertainingly choreographed, and thsi is certainly a story that isn’t afraid to get a little bit bloody. (A fact that makes the stakes of the dark world that it is set in feel a bit more real.)

Black Canary: Breaking Silence isn’t a perfect novel, but it’s one whose themes feel especially relevant and timely for the moment it’s arriving in. If you love Dinah Lance – this is an iteration of her character that’s well worth meeting.

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Black Canary: Breaking Silence is available now.