Series: Of Metal and Wishes #1
Published by Simon and Schuster on August 5, 2014
Pages: 320 pages
Amazon • Indiebound • Barnes & Noble • Goodreads
There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.
Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.
As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.
My goodness. This is a beautifully written, gruesome, creepy, and yet somehow intensely romantic read.
Going into this I had no idea that it was a Phantom of the Opera retelling. I thought it was a paranormal read with an actual ghost featuring in there as a love interest. I do think it best to inform you this is not the case! Still, that is not to say there is no mystery to the Ghost of this story and the unfolding of that is one of the central joys of the book. I’ll leave you to it. 🙂
I loved the characters in this story. Wen is such a courageous person, perhaps more so because, truly, she is timid and vulnerable. Full of self doubt and quick to take on the burden of self punishment, it is great to watch her transformation over the course of the story. The supporting cast is decently large and all feel fully realized. There are hard choices to be made here in this harsh environment and they are skillfully portrayed in such a human and empathetic way. Maybe you would not have done the same thing, but you can easily understand why some of these characters do.
There is a great element of disillusionment and the story focuses on many social issues. Wen lives in a completely isolated society that may or may not take place in a historical fantasy China. The brutal factories are her entire world (though they were not always) and the surrounding “town” that the lucky few may escape into is a source of eternal resentment and conflict for the workers. It doesn’t help the local population when “cheap, foreign labor” is brought in by the overseers. Xenophobia, classism, sexism, poor factory conditions…these are all issues examined. The cover becomes a thing of true beauty once you’ve read this novel and fully comprehend the themes.
And this might all sound so depressing, but even in the bleakest of circumstances love just might insist on thriving. The romance…THE ROMANCE. We have here one of my favorite couples I’ve read this year. I do hesitate to make a comparison with a book so hyped and so beloved, but I definitely felt shades of The Winner’s Curse in this story. If you, like me, are absolutely captivated by forbidden romance you will find much to love here. It’s definitely a slow burn and there is much joy to be found in the slow exploration of each other. There is struggle and hardship, moments of tenderness and connection, and all of the things that make a relationship truly worth it.
If there was anything that kept me from enjoying this story more it’s that I found the misogynistic society of this book to be so incredibly bleak. Wen is under the constant threat of assault or rape either through individuals isolating her or the institutional crime of the powerful preying upon the weak. It is truly pervasive and in one scene she is actually groped by her boss. I would absolutely make a content note/trigger warning for readers who might be harmed by such a scene.
And there is really, really a creepy element also. There are incresdibly scary mechanical spiders that are ready and willing to tear your guts out. The book does not shy away from such gruesome scenes. It is good to remember that much of the story takes place in a slaughterhouse and there are appropiately attendant scenes of horror and creepiness.
From my perspective, I don’t think this is really a love triangle. This is a Phantom retelling, and so we do understand the appeal of the Ghost. Truly, Sarah Fine does a wonderful job making him seem human and relatable despite the many flaws. Yet it never seemed, to me at least, that Wen was seriously considering The Ghost as a partner. There was simply too much built up between Wen and Melik. The shade of feelings between the Ghost and Wen just couldn’t compare.
The ending isn’t really a cliffhanger and this could serve as a standalone. Yet the emotion, the balance of power, the characters…they make you want more. It just strikes that perfectly tantalizing balance that makes you want to read on and on despite having a resolution. And isn’t that endorsement in and of itself? With incredible character development, complex worldbuilding, an intense creep factor, and one seriously swoonworthy love interest there just isn’t a way you could go wrong with this book.