Monday, September 8, 2014

Review: Of Metal and Wishes

Title: Of Metal and Wishes
Author: Sarah Fine
Published: August 2012
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
I was a few chapters into Of Metal and Wishes before it registered that the author, Sarah Fine, was Sarah Fine, an emerging author whose material I've read and enjoyed.  Fine first burst onto the scene with the e-book Sanctum in 2012, published by one of Amazon's acquired companies, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books.  Sanctum was a solid debut and displayed Fine's talents in writing creepy subject matter with good romantic tension. Since then, Fine has been snatched up by Simon and Schuster.  That's a pretty big deal, and the packaging of her newest book, Of Metal and Wishes, reflects this upgrade.  The book's polished marketing was such that I didn't recognize Fine as the small-time author I'd appreciated a little over a year ago.  Fortunately, Sarah Fine's writing is as fine as it ever was.

Of Metal and Wishes is a dsytopic re-telling of The Phantom of the Opera, only instead of an opera house, our setting is a slaughterhouse.  I know this hook has intrigued a lot of readers, but I found the re-telling aspect to be slightly superfluous.  I felt like the book had two storylines — one that followed The Phantom of the Opera, roughly, and another that was from Fine's own creation.  I found the latter to be much more compelling and enjoyable.

The novel's protagonist is a girl called Wen.  She and her father live inside the compound of a slaughterhouse, which provides meat for a collection of dystopic provinces, probably located somewhere in what used to be Asia.  The novel opens when a group of Noorish men and boys, part of a despised racial minority, come to the slaughterhouse as cheap labor.  Wen, who is lovely and classy, attracts some negative attention from one of the Noorish workers, and the following debacle throws her into the path of the Noor's leader, Melik.  Yes, that is love you sense in the air.

Personally, this was enough material to win my admiration, but Fine tacks on a Phantom redux.  There is a ghost in the slaughterhouse, who the inhabitants treat as a god, leaving little presents on an altar in exchange for wishes.  Wen doubts the existence of the ghost, and urges him to prove himself to her.  Well, he does, to disastrous results.

I thought the ghost/phantom character was weak in comparison to that of Wen, her father, Melik, and the other Noorish workers.  We don't really get to see much of the ghost/phantom, relative to the other characters, and so never really develop sympathy for him.  In my opinion, the addition of the ghost/phantom and his steampunkish inventions harmed the story, rather than helped it.  However, this doesn't harm the story critically.  Really, I was able to ignore the imperfect parts of this book in favor of its overall charm.

Wen was a great protagonist — a great example of a demure, mannerly heroine who is also strong and capable.  I found her to be very sympathetic and I really cared about her well-being and outcome.  The setting of the slaughterhouse — a very imaginative and effective setting — was a dangerous obstacle course for Wen and her allies to maneuver in, and provided a lot of tension and great, creepy moments.

I was overjoyed to hear that Fine is at works on a sequel, to make this book part of a duology.  It would really have been a shame if the book had ended where it did; I would have been complaining if that's where we were cut off! I'm really curious to see if Fine chooses another story, a la Phantom, to adapt in part two, or if she does away with the farce completely.

Overall, I give the book four stars.  I really look forward to reading Fine's future productions!


  1. Glad you enjoyed this one. I had some problems of my own with this novel, but I can't deny how wonderfully dark the atmosphere Sarah has created in this book. I like the combined elements that she's worked so seamlessly in this book.

    1. Ooh, did you write a review for this one? I'll head over to your blog to check. I'm interested to see what problems you had with the book. I can definitely see how the novel wouldn't ring everyone's bell.