February 22, 2013

Review: City of a Thousand Dolls

City of a Thousand Dolls By Miriam Forster
Available now from HarperTeen (HarperCollins)
Review copy

Miriam Forster's debut novel is glorious.  Nisha is a resident of the City of a Thousand Dolls.  The city is a walled-off district for unwanted female babies, where they are raised to be skilled members of society then sold to be wives, mistresses, apprentices, and more.  It's not a perfect solution, but it's better than exposure - so says the Matron, Nisha's mistress.

Nisha is more unwanted than most.  She came to the city not as a baby, but a child.  She has no caste.  The Matron took her on as an assistant, but as she comes of age her position is quite precarious.  Plus, she's carrying on an affair with a noble boy, Devan.  If the affair is discovered it could cost Nisha her life.  But when several girls commit suicide, Nisha is suspicious of something more sinister and begins to investigate.  Along the way she discovers many things about the cities dark corners and her own past.

Fittingly, since the novel is called CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS, the setting is quite elaborate.  Forster goes for a pan-Asian feel.  There are touches of Chinese and Indian history and culture, among others, and the vast majority of the girls are described as having South Asian features.  But Forster wisely doesn't make it an analog of a single place.  And certain touches, such as the city itself, are pure fantasy.  I hated that characters kept going, "Well, the City of a Thousand Dolls isn't perfect, but things could be worse," and easily dismissing reform.  Nisha addressing her home's problems was as cheering as her own growth.

I enjoyed the mystery aspect as well.  I don't think Nisha has a real future as a detective, but she did the best she could and kept asking questions and trusting her gut that something was wrong.  I liked that Nisha was in a good position to investigate because she had connections to all the Houses.  CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS showcases a variety of feminine strengths.  (Not even the girls of the House of Beauty are defenseless.)

Also, Nisha can talk to cats.  I'll give you a moment to be jealous.

CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS tackles tough sociology issues in a lush setting with a resilient heroine and an interesting supporting cast.  I was breathless through the climax and quite happy that Forster leaves a few open threads to hopefully be explored in future books.  This is the best sort of vibrant, exciting adventure that fantasy is capable of.

14 comments:

  1. I like how this has a quasi-historical theme to it. It does sound as though it fits China, but there looks like a lot more that studies society globally, even if it's a fantasy book. I'm surprised to read that it's got a mystery, because you'd think the backdrop would be enough, but I'm guessing the author uses the mystery to further explore everything.

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    1. The mystery is definitely a chance to look deeper into the lives of the girls.

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  2. "Also, Nisha can talk to cats. I'll give you a moment to be jealous."

    I might need more than a moment! I'm pretty sure if I could be any animal, I'd be a house cat like my own beloved cat who is loved and spoiled beyond reason.

    I read one really negative review of this and was going to take it off my list but your review has revitalized my interest in this book. Hope I can get a copy soon!

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    1. I'd rather talk to dogs, but I think cats would have some interesting conversation.

      Yeah, this was high on my anticipation list and Cecilia warned me there were lots of negative reviews, but I went for it anyway. It does deal with lots of hot button issues - women's rights particularly - but I think Forster really presents things as complicated topics with complicated answers and there is some progress by the end. I really hope she writes more in this universe so Nisha can continue to improve the Dolls' lot.

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  3. This sounds like a great fantasy novel, and Nisha sounds like a character I would like. Plus the talking to cats is awesome :)
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

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  4. I don't read a lot of fantasy but this one actually sounds quite good! I'm very curious now. And I wish I could speak to cats. Totally jealous.

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  5. Yay cats! I can speak to cats just fine...they just don't listen much.

    I'm glad this is good--I can continue looking forward to it with a clear conscience.

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  6. Just waiting for this one to come through on the library hold list...

    (and so glad that you loved it! i had a feeling that it was a book for me when i saw the cover/title/summary combination, but negative reviews are scary!)

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    1. Yay for library holds!

      Negative reviews are really scary. Who wants to read a book that will make them upset, disappointed, angry, whatever. It may not be worth the risk to get just an *okay* book. But I think you'll be fine with this one.

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  7. This one sounds amazingggg, I really must read it ASAP I think.

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