Of Metal and Wishes by Sarah Fine
Book One of the Of Metal and Wishes series
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: August 5, 2014
Rating: 4 stars
Source: eARC from Edelweiss
Summary (from Goodreads):
There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.
Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.
As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.
What I Liked:
I remember watching The Phantom of the Opera in elementary school - I think it had just come out, so I must have been in fourth or fifth grade. I don't remember the movie very much, to be honest, but I remember LOVING it. So when I saw this book, I thought two things: 1) Another Sarah Fine book, yay! and 2) a book based on The Phantom of the Opera, COOL! This book was stunning, people. I liked it a lot!
Wen lives in a factory with her father. Years ago, they used to be of the upper class, better off, not in need of food or money. But after Wen's mother dies, Wen joins her father in the factory, and assists him in tending to injuries. Wen, her father, and the people of the factory are Itanyai. When a trainload of Noor come to the factory to work, things are set in motion. The Noor speak a different language, look different, and are treated like barbarians. They are poor and skinny and weak, but all they want to do is work. I haven't mentioned the Ghost yet - there is a Ghost that everyone prays to/leaves wishes. He is a dead worker of the factory, but is he really dead? He seems to have taken a liking to Wen, punishing a Noor boy after the boy pulled up her dress and humiliated her. Curious...
I'm not sure I've read a book like this. It kind of reminded me of the idea of The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (I haven't read that one, but the IDEA of it), with the factory, the unsanitary conditions, the life in cities, etc. Not necessarily the meatpacking, though the slaughter house of the factory is pretty gruesome.
That's just it though - the setting of this book is so well-constructed. It seems like this book is set in a time period similar to the early 1900s. Obviously this book is fantasy, with the two different races of people (Itanyai and Noor). I LOVE how well the author creates the setting and builds the world. The poorness of the Noor, how even the factory doctor and his daughter are overwhelmed with debt, the horrible, disgusting underboss, Wen's fear of being taken advantage of... everything that makes up the setting of this book is so vivid and well-described. I kept thinking as I was reading, dang, this lady sure knows how to construct a world, a setting, a story.
The story is really well-crafted as well. It's not just about Wen and her fear of Mugo, the pedophile underboss. It's not just about the horrible way in which everyone treats the Noor, blames the Noor for things that they obviously can't control (like sickness, or impoverishment). It's not just about figuring out the secret of the Ghost. It's not just about Wen and Melik and their growing feelings... it's all of those things. There is so much going on in this book. The world of the factory is complicated. The lore of the Ghost is complicated. It seems like everything is complicated and not given without a fight.
Wen is such a likable heroine. She is intelligent, and not just in terms of medicine. She knows better to think that the Noor are all savages. She knows better than to walk right up to them and expect to be friends with them, but she doesn't treat them like they are dirt beneath her feet. While she feels guilt for a wish to the Ghost that backfired and hurt the Noor boy, she always felt bad for the Noor. I love that she gave the Noor (and Melik) a chance, from the beginning.
I LOVE Melik. We know that he is the silent, unofficial official leader of the Noor, even though he is young. He is well-built, strong, tall, and able to speak the Itanyai language (and therefore, translate into the Noor language). He is quiet and observant, clever and contemplative. He knows how and when to fight his battles, and when to step aside or back away. He and the Noor are never broken, their spirit always strong and defiant, despite the harsh conditions of the factory, the treatment of the underboss and guards, and the injustices handed to them left and right.
The Ghost is an interesting part to the story. Not only does he prove to Wen that he exists, but he does it in a brutal and saddening way. I love the slow, progressive way in which Fine introduces the Ghost to the story, and then bit by bit, the Ghost himself. The Ghost is so strange, and all of his... companions. I LOVE Fine's take on the Ghost. She made him similar to the Phantom, but so very different.
That being said, this book isn't a retelling (though I marked it as such). It's based on The Phantom of the Opera, but I wouldn't say it's a retelling. The role of the Ghost is different - he doesn't try to make Wen marry him. He DOES want her to stay with him. He worked hard to make a place for Wen in his life... but like the Phantom, he messed up badly. You'll have to read this book to figure out what the Ghost does. I love how Fine twists the story to her own measure.
The romance is sweet and painful and bittersweet and beautiful. Wen and Melik work so hard for each other, though it doesn't seem like it. Wen buys medicine for the Noor, and shows them so must kindness, but she's always thinking of Melik. Melik guards her from the Noor (not they are going to attack her or anything - but he keeps her name in a good light among them), as well as from the guards and Mugo. The two of them are so brokenly perfect for each other, and they fight to find their way to each other. There is no love triangle in this book, though I was legitimately afraid for one. We know the Ghost cares greatly for Wen, but Wen's heart belongs to Melik. She cares about the Ghost very much though, and I really respect this.
The ending is crushing, in so many ways - good and bad and wonderful. It's so fitting, and feels really *right*, despite having a touch of bitterness. If this book weren't part of a series, then I might have been a little saddened by the ending, because that couldn't be it, could it!? But there is another book to follow. The ending of this particular book is excellent, knowing that there is a sequel. And that, my friends, is how being a part of a series versus being a standalone novel can change your perception of a book's ending.
Overall, I'm really pleased with this book. Going into the book, I didn't really know what to expect. I did not expect a novel set in a harsh factory, a poor world, a terrible society. I loved this book! I know others have had mixed feelings, saying that they couldn't get into the novel, or it didn't grab them, but this one worked for me. I love Fine's books!
What I Did Not Like:
Hmmm, I don't think I have much to say here. I know, I only gave this book four stars, but I have nothing to say about what I did not like. I'm really happy with this book, and so glad I had the chance to read it! But it's a four-star read from me. And there is nothing wrong with that!
Would I Recommend It:
Yes! I would recommend this book to fantasy lovers, historical fiction lovers (though this book is technically not historical fiction), and mystery lovers. This book has a solid mystery foundation to it, though I didn't really mention that in the previous sections of my review. Basically... I would recommend any of Sarah Fine's books (this one, Sanctum, Fractured, Scan).
4 stars. It's official (if it wasn't already) - I am hooked on Sarah Fine's books! This is my fourth novel of hers read - and I am four for four! Bring on the third Guards of the Shadowlands book, Burn, Marked, and the sequel to this book!
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