Saturday, December 13, 2014

Steampunk Phantom: "Of Metal and Wishes" by Sarah Fine

A co-worker at the library where I work ( Emily!) gave me a heads up about this when it was published, as a new take on the Phantom of the Opera story so...of course it had to be mine! I fell in love with the alternately dreamy/ nightmare-y world and the haunting love story the author, Ms. Fine, has created. 16 year old Wen lives with her father above his clinic based in a horrifying slaughter house. After her mother's death, she is forced to leave their lovely home on a hill, her beautiful dresses sewed and embroidered by her beloved mother and accompany her father to the rooms they now share. Now she sews tiny, neat stitches in the torn flesh of workers caught in the killing machinery.
No matter how hard her father and the slaughterhouse workers work, the bosses and under bosses call all the shots. Food and clothes are all bought from the company store and there never seems a way to save or much hope for the workers of a life beyond the daily grind.
Many of these people pray to a ghost. There is an altar where they leave gifts and wishes. Some he seems to grant. Wen scoffs at these superstitions. Then, when there is a shortage of workers, some outsiders are brought in to work on the floor, these are the Noor. They are disparaged and looked down on, not as good as the Itanyai, Wen's people, and yet there is something about them. They walk unbowed, unlike the weary workers they are joining and their leader seems to be a tall, copper haired boy with jade green eyes. They had a reputation as warriors. Wen is intrigued but when something happens to embarrass her in the cafeteria in front of the workers, she makes a wish to the ghost, herself, and then is afraid it might have come true.
The treatment of the workers by the bosses and the Noor by everyone is like an alternate version of Orwell's 1984. It's a truly frightening vision and you'll keep your fingers crossed for Wen but I don't want to spoil the secrets of what goes on behind the hellish walls of the slaughter house, or of Wen's discoveries. Or of someone observing from the sidelines.

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