I'm so happy to see this gorgeous, gorgeous cover, not only because it means sanity has prevailed at Bloomsbury Publishing, but because it means I can finally do something I've been wanting to do ever since I read the book last month: a review and book giveaway!
I think Magic Under Glass is remarkable. It's a book that I really wanted to love, both because I already really liked the author's LJ and because I always want to support people writing books with chromatic characters as protagonist. I had some confused initial feelings about it, especially the ending; but the more it stayed with me, the more I admired it, and all the things it was trying to do.
Although it is a completely different kind of book, it reminds me a lot of The Demon's Lexicon, in that I believe both books are very aware of and responding to various literary YA tropes. Magic Under Glass is a subversive little book; it's also beautifully written and just basically REALLY COOL.
Top 5 reasons to love Magic Under Glass:
1. Our heroine, Nimira, is talented, smart, smoking hot, and completely in control of her own life.
2. ~STEAMPUNK ROBOTS!!!!!!~
3. It has gorgeous and intriguing worldbuilding that I found really endearing and really want to see more of.
4. Another story about a white guy saving the clueless natives from themselves? Strike that. Reverse it, subvert it, invert it. Hell yeah.
5. hello, can you haz a critique of Imperialist politics with your YA fantasy? YES YOU CAN HAZ.
5 Shitty Anti-feminist YA tropes that Magic Under Glass completely and wonderfully subverts:
1. Nimira's life isn't a quagmire of hopeless confusion until she falls in love with a guy who has all the answers and helps her sort everything out. In fact, the roles are completely reversed.
2. There's a woman in the attic, but she's not mad, and she's coming out swinging, whether you like it or not.
3. Nimira doesn't need a man to free her. She's the one doing the freeing.
4. There are two men, but she's not torn between them, and there's no overly simplistic, good boy/bad boy parallels meant to teach her the difference between ~lust~ and ~love~. In fact, Nimira pretty much knows what she wants, and this story's not about watching her second-guess herself, make mistakes, or change her mind on the way to finding true love.
5. There's a lot of romance in Magic Under Glass, but it's also a fantasy adventure, a mystery, a story of political intrigues, and a girl's coming-of-age story. If I had to describe it, the last thing I'd say is "love story."
5 Things Magic Under Glass has that's just totally NEAT.
1. ~STEAMPUNK ROBOTS!~
2. ...WHO PLAY THE PIANO!
3. ...AND USE MUSIC AS A SECRET CODE!
4. ...AND MAY OR NOT BE ~MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE~ OH HO SEE WHAT I DID THAR.
5. An entire, fully developed realm of fairies and magic--that we never actually see.
Magic Under Glass tells the story of Nimira, a music hall dancer who's been transplanted from her native land, where her mother was once a respected member of the royal court, to work for pennies as a "trouser girl" in a city much like London. When the handsome and polite Mr. Parry offers her a new life working for him, Nim takes it. Her new job? To perform with a mysterious life-sized, piano-playing automaton.
I think what I love most about this truly unique story is that there's such a deep sense of place, culture, history. Even though you never see Nim's homeland, you know it and feel her closeness to it, and you're reminded of it in hundreds of ways, as she is. By the same token, when the polite veneer of Mr. Parry's establishment begins to chip away, the reader feels the ever-present nearness of an even more fascinating culture: the fairy kingdom, whose borders have been closed to Nimira's adopted country for many years. It may be forbidden, but its marks are everywhere. The result is a story whose edges are tinged with secrecy and wonder, the sense of these richly exciting and magical places being just out of our reach--while the plot itself is driven by secrets, lies, and Nimira's striving to retain her independence and agency at all costs.
Nimira is first and foremost a wonderful character; she doesn't let anybody push her around, and she always stands up for herself, despite her position as an underclass marginalized character who is often exposed to the xenophobic ridicule of those around her. Time and again, Nimira stands up, not only to power, but to markers of class and privilege that have led, in part, to the ruin of the country. If James Cameron's Avatar is yet another white guilt fantasy, Dolamore's story is completely the reverse: nearly everyone with power in Nimira's adopted country has become too weakened or corrupted to challenge the status quo. But Nimira, with the help of other characters who, like her, are outsiders, marginalized out of fear, may be able to do what no one in power can, and bring down the whole magical house of cards.
I love this book. I love the worldbuilding. I love the plot. I love the romance. I love, love, love that the women of this book are all smart and hot and capable, with agency, while male agency is more or less buried under helplessness or cluelessness. Jaclyn Dolamore subverts, on every level, the typical YA tropes like the 'guy is always right' trope (aka Sarah Dessen syndrome), the 'girl just needs a guy in her life and suddenly everything is fine' trope, the 'if the guy is violent, stalking you, or not taking 'no' for an answer, it's true love!' trope (can I call this the Hush, Hush Syndrome?) and probably about 12 more I'm forgetting. It's just fabulous.
Happily, my feelings about the ending, which largely hinged upon whether or not there would be a sequel, have all but been erased by the announcement that there is in fact a forthcoming sequel: Magic Under Stone! And, again, the thing I'm most excited about is this feeling that we've only just begun to explore the fascinating, beautiful, and complex universe of this story. There will be much more to come in the sequel, and I'm looking forward to all of it.
And now for the fun part: I like it so much, I'm giving away a copy!
To enter: comment to this post by Monday at 9:00 am EST, April 12th!
That's it. :D On 4/12 I'll do a random selection and announce the winner.
And even if you don't win, please consider buying a copy of this lovely and unique book. <3
eta: editing to add in some other great reviews of MUG:
- The Book Smugglers' review of Magic Under Glass
- Review of MUG from In Which a Girl Reads
and thanks to troisroyaumes for linking the following, which are excellent and thinky!
- dmp's review of MUG (some spoilers), with emphasis on its political landscape and the contextual history of automatons
- starlady's review of MUG (contains spoilers), with emphasis on the Other and political allegory.
You can also read this entry & discussion on LJ!
eta, 4/12/10: Thank you to all the contest entrants! The winner of the drawing is kagyakusha! Congratulations! :DDDD
You can also read this entry on Dreamwidth, where there are currently comments!