Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

Ever since Nimira came to the country of Lorinar with the intention of making her fortune, she has been leered at, exoticized, and made to feel inferior by virtually everyone she meets.  While dancing with a troupe of fellow dark-skinned “trouser girls” from Tassim who are treated as a salacious novelty act, she dreams of being discovered by a gentleman who will care for her.  Nimira cannot imagine the turns her life will take when it actually happens.

Enter Hollin Parry: handsome gentleman, scholar, rich benefactor to young singers.  Nimira cannot believe her luck when Hollin asks her to accompany him to his manor house to sing along with his automaton, a strangely realistic mechanical man who plays tunes on the piano.  When she arrives, Nimira finds that her life at Hollin’s is not all it seems, and she begins to unearth his many secrets.

I was really excited when I thought that Hollin was going to be the bad guy.  Despite having made a couple of really bad choices in his life, he’s a genuinely likable character who seems to love Nimira for all the right reasons.  And there’s nothing I like better than a well-intentioned bad guy.  But there’s a much bigger villain pulling the strings – one who’s not likable in any way.  Hollin is still a believably conflicted character, both in his thoughts and actions, and I enjoyed seeing him struggle with his decisions.  Interestingly, I feel like I came away from the book with a better understanding of Hollin than either of the romantic leads.

The biggest secret Nimira unearths is the true nature of the automaton, which is really a fairy who is trapped inside a mechanical man by a curse.  It is not a surprise that Nimira, who has been made to feel like something inhuman for most of her life and now feels indebted to a man who she does not love, is immediately attracted to Erris, who is similarly trapped and without agency in this world.  However, I didn’t feel that love develop since their conversations were so short and stilted – for reasons that make perfect sense in the plot, but it still left me wanting more.  And let’s be honest, creating really great sexual tension is tough when one of the characters is made of metal and can’t move.  This was one of a few places where I would have liked a little bit further development, which would certainly have been possible in this very short book.  I didn’t find their budding romance unrealistic, I just didn’t feel like I saw it grow.

Despite the fast-moving pace of this short book, the world-building is really well done.  The reader gets a good sense of both Nimira’s home country and of Lorinar, and they are each given their own specific character and customs.  We haven’t seen much of the fairy world at this point, but I’m sure that it will be similarly developed in later books.  Dolamore did a really nice job of using the characters’ cultural backgrounds as a base for their personal viewpoints and choices – you could see the differences between the countries in the way that characters reacted to a situation, even when they are going against tradition.  I would have loved to hear more about the politics of Dolmore’s world.  Many political intrigues are hinted at in the book, and I hope that they will move to center stage as Nimira and Erris’ story continues.

I was shocked, only a few months after the cover change to Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, to see Bloomsbury publish another book featuring a dark-skinned, black-haired protagonist with a very white-looking girl on the cover – especially since this looks like it is a cover that was created with a dedicated photo shoot rather than using stock photos.  (I could, of course, be wrong about this not being a stock photo.)  I think it’s probable that the cover for Magic Under Glass was finalized before that controversy took place, but it’s still truly disheartening to see. I hope that we will see changes when the paperback comes out.

Review copy provided by publisher.

Jaclyn Dolamore on the web.