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Literature / Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell

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Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell is a novella by Brandon Sanderson, originally published in George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois's Dangerous Women anthology in 2013.

Silence Montane is the owner and proprietor of a rest stop in the eponymous Forests of Hell who secretly operates as a bounty hunter out of the supposed sanctuary of her rest stop. Silence tracks a dangerous criminal, Chesterton Divide, into the Forests, hoping to earn enough money to keep her creditors from seizing her property. But the Forests are filled with dangers, from deadly shades who live within the trees to the criminals who travel them. Travelers have to be cautious, at all times careful to follow the Simple Rules:

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Don't kindle flame, don't shed the blood of another, don't run at night. These things draw shades.

Part of The Cosmere, Sanderson's shared universe containing Mistborn and The Stormlight Archive, among others. There is an audiobook version narrated by Claudia Black; more information can be found on Sanderson's website here.


Shadows for Silence contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: As befitting the novella's inclusion in the Dangerous Women anthology, Silence is a bounty hunter who makes ingenious use of weapons and poisons to kill her bounties. Notable in that Sanderson specifically tried to avert many of the more common Action Girl attributes.
  • Action Mom: Silence is a middle-aged mother of two daughters, has a bad leg, and is secretly a legendary bounty hunter whose grandmother gave her exhaustive training in surviving the Forests of Hell.
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  • After the End: The continent the story takes place on, with its shades and fortified cities, is not the original homeland of human civilization. Everyone living there are refugees, having fled the destruction of their civilization by some horrific force known only as the Evil. Whatever it was, it was bad enough that living surrounded by the lethal and angry shades of the dead was preferable.
  • All Devouring Black Hole Loan Sharks: The reason Silence needs to work as a bounty hunter. Eventually this is dealt with, by letting the Shade of her grandmother kill him.
  • Badass Family: The Forescouts, Silence's maternal line. They were among the first to settle the forest, the first to figure out the rules. Even now, Silence's daughter and niece continue the tradition.
  • Berserk Button: The shades have three. Fast movement at nighttime, shedding blood, and kindling fire. The first doesn't provoke them unless you keep moving for a while. The other two, however, utterly enrage them and send them on a psychotic killing spree, starting with whoever shed blood or kindled flame, and then proceeding to kill anyone else nearby until they calm down.
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  • Bloodless Carnage: Justified: when shedding even a single drop of blood in anger will enrage every shade in the vicinity, you learn how to kill without shedding blood fast. That said, the story does not shy away from exactly how brutal Silence's methods are. It describes in great detail her drugging her targets at the inn before tracking them down, putting a tar-lined bag over their head, and caving their skulls in.
  • Bounty Hunter: Silence blurs the line between this and a Professional Killer, since she goes after wanted criminals but then murders them as stealthily and expediently as possible for the price on their heads.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Theopolis tries to betray his arrangement with the most deadly bounty hunter on the continent, endangers her daughter's life, and threatens her family's future, all to broaden his profit margin. She looses a Shade on him.
  • The Cameo: Averted. This is the first Cosmere story (not counting The Eleventh Metal or Hope of Elantris, which are more like extensions of other stories) where Hoid doesn't show up. Word Of Brandon is that he had something else he was busy with during the time this story takes place.
  • Darker and Edgier: Compared to what's usual for the Cosmere - the scene that shows Silence murdering one of her victims after the other being the most obvious example for that.
  • Deadly Nosebleed: A variant. When Theopolis slaps Silence near the end of the book, the resulting nosebleed is not directly fatal. But it is blood shed in anger, one of the three things that draws the fury of the shades. And unbeknownst to Theopolis, there's a shade behind the cupboard door.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Theopolis' scheme to repossess Silence's business is profoundly unethical but technically legal. As for repeatedly sabotaging her bounty hunt and endangering her daughter's life, much less so. When he taunts her, slaps her, and draws blood from her cheek, it gets him withered to dust by a Shade.
  • The Dreaded: The White Fox, a famed bounty hunter that criminals tell horror stories about. As almost nobody who isn't a criminal travels to the forests...
  • Eye Colour Change: The ghostly Shades' eyes are a sign of the level of danger they pose. When calm, their eyes are the same misty white as the rest of them. If they glow green, it's a sign that they are alert and looking into the physical world. If they turn red, they're enraged and about to start using their Touch of Death on anyone nearby.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Enforced. Detonating gunpowder counts as kindling flame. Gunpowder is known, though. And when gunpowder is used as a bomb, the enraged shades make it even more lethal.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Silence named her daughter William Ann, after Silence's husband William.
  • Guile Hero: Silence isn't the most physically powerful of people, so instead she uses drugs, traps and superior knowledge of the area to great advantage.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Shades. They wouldn't count, being a magical phenomenon, except that they're literally the shades of dead humans and can retain some sense of their original identity. Presumably on Threnody shedding blood and kindling flame have very bad consequences in the Cognitive Realm.
  • Innocuously Important Episode: The events of the story itself have no broader implications, but it introduces the world of Threnody to the larger Cosmere.
  • Living Motion Detector: Moving too quickly at night draws the attention of the shades.
  • Loophole Abuse: The prohibition on spilling blood sounds like Thou Shalt Not Kill to an outsider, but shedding a single drop of blood enrages the Shades in a way that killing someone bloodlessly doesn't. Silence exploits this both ways.
  • Nay-Theist: Silence explains that she does believe in the God Beyond, but doesn't worship it, since she doesn't see a point.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Silence's grandmother was a perpetual hardass who nonetheless is one of the few people who survived lighting a fire in the forest to make a hearth for the inn. At the end of the novel, her shade withers the creditor who is blackmailing Silence.
  • Place of Protection: Silence's waystop has layered silver rings set into the ground around it, ensuring that shades cannot enter. Also Subverted, since if you happen to have a decent bounty on your head, staying at the Montane waystop is a good way to get killed. Silence tries very hard to keep anyone from realizing that.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When the shades have their eyes closed, they're effectively harmless. You can still die if you walk into one, but they'll drift away from humans. When their eyes shine green, they're curious. Hide if you can, hold very still if you can't. If you're lucky, they'll lose interest and close their eyes again. If their eyes burn red, run. Only getting behind silver can save you then.
  • Scars Are Forever: Severe exposure to a Shade leaves the skin bleached dead grey, which some people see as a curse or sign of bad luck.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Silver is the only thing that can harm shades or reverse their Touch of Death.
  • Smug Snake: Theopolis clearly thinks he's all sorts of awesome for exploiting an aging widow who's miles beneath him on the social totem pole. Red, likewise, thinks nothing of riding in and claiming the reward for Silence's hard work. They both get what's coming to them.
  • Sole Survivor: Silence's niece, Sebruki, was the sole survivor of an attack by bandits. Said bandits walk right into the Montane Inn. It doesn't end well for them.
  • Space Jews: The inhabitants of the forest have shades of this, though not in the usual way: rather than being associated with money, they have a number of customs and prohibitions they follow, including not eating pork, which makes them reminiscent of Orthodox Jews. Word of God is that this was the inspiration for the behavior of the shades.
    • However other elements are strongly reminiscent of the early settlers in the USA. In particular their rugged independence and being settlers on a new continent. Also their names are similar to names used by Puritan settlers.
  • Stripped to the Bone: Death by Shade leaves only bones, dust, and a new Shade. This is of particular concern for Silence, since a disintegrated fugitive is a bounty that she can't claim.
  • Touch of Death: The shades wither any living flesh that they touch. For a short time after, the damage can be reversed by applying or consuming silver, but after that the dead flesh stays dead.
  • The Power of Blood: Blood shed in anger, exposed to the open air, will draw the fury of the shades.
  • Training from Hell: Silence's grandmother put her through this, including sealing her in a silver circle with an enraged shade to teach her how to kill it.
  • Undying Loyalty: Literally. The shade of Silence`s grandmother never tries to attack her.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: The author's introduction states that he got the name of the protagonist from a Puritan in genealogical records, and he wondered what would cause parents to name their daughter "Silence" rather than other, more obvious virtues.
  • The ’Verse: Takes place in Sanderson's larger universe, The Cosmere.


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