Friday, February 8, 2013

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

Title: City of a Thousand Dolls
Author: Miriam Forster
Publisher: HarperTeen
Release Date: February 5, 2013
Pages: 361 pages (hardcover)
How I Got the Book: ARC via Amazon Vine
Purchase/Pre-order: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository
Promotional Materials and More: book trailer | author website

City of a Thousand DollsAn exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.

Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.


Review:


There are plenty of European-influenced fantasies novels on the market and Asian-inspired fantasies are on the rise too, but fantasies drawing on other cultures? You're hard-pressed to find those. City of a Thousand Dolls is one of those rare books that draws on another culture: Indian. I expected it to take that originality somewhere, but this one is another dud. Between sitting around doing nothing while waiting for some appointments and reading this book, I preferred doing nothing to reading it.

To give credit where it's due, I loved Nisha's (admittedly unquestioned and unexplained until it's dropped on us at the very end) ability to be able to speak to cats  and the cats themselves are such fun characters! You should have known I'd love them; I'm the YA Kitten, after all. Cats and books are equally loved in my heart. The mystery even managed to keep me on my toes until the very end. Then Forster throws in some Chinese (policies governing how many children a family can have, the preference of male children over female) and Japanese (poetry is in haiku style for the most part) bits in addition to the Indian caste system her novel makes heavy use of. Nice!

You'd have to be psychic to be able to tell from the cover and/or jacket copy that this book comes with a heaping helping of misogyny. The in-world sexism is so over-the-top that this book ought to come with a trigger warning slapped right on the cover. The women are bought by MEN, trained to suit the desires of MEN, and are considered worth so little compared to MEN that women are often abandoned as young children. This habit is why the City of a Thousand Dolls (emphasis on DOLLS; that's basically all women are in this world) was founded: to put women to good use.

Seriously, fantasy novels can stop falling back on this tried-and-true way to create easy conflict. It's been covered already. There's not much more you can do with it now other than annoy people. I'm glad Nisha and other characters came to object to it later on, but it came very late in the novel. Even then, nothing is really done about it. Women are still going to be considered lesser and trained to suit men's desires, but they get a choice in which man claims them. Not much change, is it?

The characters themselves don't get much dimension. Nisha has some, but everyone else is about as flat as a board. Nisha isn't even a very good main character because she often doesn't ask questions she really ought to ask and does really stupid things. Why can she speak to cats? She never asks herself this. If a character hadn't dropped that bomb on us at the end, we never would have known  why. Going to meet a killer alone? Also really stupid. And for goodness's sake, have no girls ever wandered into the forest or been dared to go in there? It's ridiculous the house back there stayed such a secret when discovering it was so easy!

There's a lot in this novel that isn't done with any finesse. The reveal of the culprit(s), their motives, why Nisha can speak to the cats, what the cats are (because they obviously aren't normal cats), and more are all dropped on us at the very end of the book with two or three chapters of straight revelation/infodump. It's ridiculous! When you're revealing information you've kept hidden well for an entire novel, a reader shouldn't find the minutiae of a contract more interesting!

Then the book ends on a very middle-grade-esque note with everyone living happily ever after. All the wrongs are righted, Nisha gets what she wants, everything is perfect, etc. This kind of ending is rather unrealistic because of how violently misogynist her world is. Implementing the same solutions wouldn't eliminate it in our world, so why should it in hers? Maybe this was aimed at the younger YA/older middle grade group, but I've read middle grade novels that handled their issues with a much more deft hand. There's really no excuse for this novel to go so badly. My adivce? Skip it.

1.5 stars!


What am I reading next?: Mila 2.0 by Debra Driza