a little note beforehand: I've seemed to forgotten that this is a book REVIEW blog.
i.e. lack of reviews this month (or in general on this blog).
Apologies and get ready for some reviews this week!
Nimira is a foreign music-hall girl forced to dance for mere pennies. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to sing with a piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new and better life. In Parry's world, however, buried secrets are beginning to stir. Unsettling below-stairs rumors swirl about ghosts, a madwoman roaming the halls, and Parry's involvement with a league of sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. Then Nimira discovers the spirit of a fairy gentleman named Erris is trapped inside the clockwork automaton, waiting for someone to break his curse. The two fall into a love that seems hopeless, and breaking the curse becomes a race against time, as not just their love, but the fate of the entire magical world may be in peril.
Magic Under Glass is already infamous after the cover controversy that made it the center of attention in the book blogosphere. Suddenly this book was in our collective consciousness, and this is part of the reason why I promptly pushed it to the top of my reading pile when I picked up a copy.
And I think this book is great.
Let's ignore the controversy now, since the cover certainly shouldn't be the main focus of any book. Jacklyn Dolamore deserves attention for writing a lovely book in its own right, not for being the author who had a disaster as a cover.
In Dolamore's fantasy world there's a little bit of everything: sorcery, fairies, automatons, and quite a bit of political intrigue. Dolamore manages to put all these elements together and create a lush setting reminiscent of 19th century England, with a bit of steampunk and gothic romance mixed in. The resulting combination is a world worthy of praise.
Nimira is the heroine of this tale: a classic victim of the riches-to-rags good/bad luck that permeates fantasy tales. All the same, her predicament is an interesting one: and her dancing skills land her a job with the enigmatic (and oh-so-handsome) sorcerer Hollin Parry.
For a good part of the book, Magic Under Glass closely follows the plotline of Jane Eyre: under-appreciated girl is hired by mysterious, rich man who whisks her away to his manor only to fall deeply in love with her. Then cue drama when a mad woman rushes into her room in the middle of the night. This symmetry of plotline only furthers the resonance of Nimira's plight: and the magical elements added in another layer, another dimension, that just made this book all the more enjoyable.
From the very first I was enchanted by Dolamore's prose: it's evocative and finely tuned and quite beautiful. Lovely descriptions abound, and I felt Nimira's world to be quite solid. There were scenes and lulls in the book with beautiful words and exquisite sentences. For a debut novelist, the writing style is exemplary. Sure, it's not perfect, but when an author weaves a tapestry of description such as the one in Magic Under Glass, it's just lovely to behold.
The romance was quite a large part of the book: and it's nice to see it done right for once in YA.* The love triangle is a bit confusing at first since I wasn't sure who was best for Nimira, but who she ultimately ends up with is--in my opinion--the right choice. The automaton-who-is-really-a-fairy-prince is very sweet, and as Nimira strives to break his curse its a heartbreaking quest worthy of this book. Hollin Parry's conflict between choosing good over evil is well-drawn; however the evil sorcerer Smollings is a bit vague for my tastes. The characters are perhaps not as fully realized as I could have hoped for, but their performance is still good.
The finely tuned plot is both exciting and intriguing. I turned pages feverishly as Nimira sorts out her feelings for Hollins, falls in love with one of the two suitors vying for her affections, attempts to break a curse, and then tries to prevent tragedy from happening. She came off as a suitably strong heroine and I didn't dislike her.**
My chief complaint is that this book sort of fell apart towards the end: the last few scenes were lacking in the detail I expected and the ending was more like a cliffhanger, "haha-the second-book-isn't-out-yet-too-bad." It was at this point where I really saw the author's hand, since the characters were thrown a (quite random) conflict at them just to provide the premise of the second book. The ending left me confused, but after a bit I realized that the beginning and middle are strong enough that I'll be looking forward to the next installment eagerly.
When a novel manages to wrestle your attention away and then keep firm grasp of it, I can't help thinking there's something marvelous about it. Magic Under Glass did just that, and this book is a wonderful edition to YA fantasy and a promising start for Dolamore.
I give it a 8.5/10. If you like Libba Bray or Tamora Pierce definitely pick this one up.
*In my opinion 8/10 of every book in YA completely butchers romance--commentary on this coming up later today.
**which is very, very rare for me in YA nowadays.
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