Thursday, March 21, 2013

City of a Thousand Dolls

Nisha is an outsider in the City of a Thousand Dolls, which houses abandoned female orphans to become educated in a discipline and sold to various buyers as apprentices, wives, or courtesans. She belongs to no house, but is free to roam the city, being educated here and there while doing errands and gathering information for Matron, the matriarch and protector of the city. A few friends make her life bearable as well as her cat companions, who can communicate telepathically with her and each other. Then girls start to die under mysterious circumstances, putting the usually peaceful city into turmoil. After the trend continues, officials are looking for someone to blame and Nisha's future in the city becomes tenuous. She volunteers to find the killer both to save herself and future victims, but she has no idea the danger she will find herself in or how much it will change her life and the City of a Thousand Dolls.

The City of a Thousand Dolls acts as a solution for the Bhinian Empire's two child limit. Unwanted girls can be taken there to be trained in the arts of music, healing, pleasure, combat, or (if certain rumors are true) assassination. Even though the opportunities available to these girls are many and it's infinitely better than being left to die, these girls are still being basically sold into slavery. They have no control over who buys them and there is no telling if their buyer will be decent or abusive. The entire concept makes me uncomfortable and it's meant to. It's easy to forget that the city is a gilded cage because of the quality of  education and amount of work that each girl undergoes. This tradition has been going on for a long time and, because it is so much better than the alternative, the Bhinian people are reluctant to change it. Part of that is also because the city is separated from the rest of the Bhinian Empire and it's easy to dismiss something you never really directly interact with. I loved how the Bhinian Empire is a lush and vibrant amalgamation of Chinese and Indian culture and aesthetics. The background of the empire was touched upon, but left more to be uncovered for the next installment. I think this novel would be a cinematographer's dream to film in either a movie or television show.

The characters really make this book shine. Nisha is amazing yet realistic. She is an outsider in the city due to being abandoned there when she was 6 and had no ties to any caste. At first, she seems more free than the other girls in the caste system because she won't be sold, trains in more than one house, and gets extra privileges due to being Matron's eyes and ears. Then, everything comes tumbling down. Nisha is suddenly in danger of being sold as a slave with no one able to do anything to save her. Instead of folding in on herself and taking her fate, she tries to solve the murder to earn her freedom. Nisha is a very strong girl, but not without vulnerability. She has her moments of doubt and despair, but never gives up in the end. Her relationship with the cats in the city is one of my favorite parts. She can communicate with them telepathically and they are a family to her. Some thought this aspect was too childish, but I found it awesome (probably because I'm a crazy cat lady), especially when their true nature was revealed in the end. Nisha's friends are equally fleshed out. Tanaya is a seemingly perfect stock character who will eventually become princess of the Empire, but her character gains dimensions as the book goes along.

City of a Thousand Dolls is a formidable YA debut that guarantees that I will read anything Miriam Forster writes. It's not a perfect book, but the writing and characters that sucked me in the story made me forgive the few flaws. I can't wait to read the next Bhinian Empire book, which will sadly not be a sequel but will take place in the same world.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

1 comment:

M.A.D. said...

Hey girl! Glad to hear how much you enjoyed this one! I was on the fence about it, but think I'll be adding it to my wish list now :)

Ps - Cheers for all us crazy cat ladies <3 <3 <3