Howdy all! It's Monday again, everyone's favorite day of the week, right? Look on the bright side, only four more days until the weekend. To help ease the pain of a new week, I have a brilliant book for you all today. It's no secret that I am a big fan of Sarah Fine after reading her debut book, Sanctum, back in 2012. I shouted across the blogosphere for everyone to try this book, and thankfully, most of you who did, loved it as much as I did. I wasn't sure what to expect with her latest book: Of Metal and Wishes which is being billed as a blend of Phantom of the Opera and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Needless to say, I was blown away by the brilliance of this book. Without a doubt, it will end up on my best of 2014 list. I am delighted to once again welcome Sarah back to the blog. Sarah was kind enough to take time out of her crazy schedule to discuss her world building. Before we get to that, let me introduce you to Sarah Fine:
Sarah Fine was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast, where she lives with her husband and two children. When she's not writing, she's working as a child psychologist. No, she is not psychoanalyzing you right now. SANCTUM was her first novel. She also writes with Walter Jury under the name S.E. Fine, and their YA sci-fi thriller, SCAN, comes out in 2014 along with the conclusion of the Shadowland Series: Chaos and Of Metal and Wishes. Visit her website for details, also find Sarah on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Goodreads.
Here is Sarah:
You can take the girl out of the world, but can you take the world out of the girl?
In my first series, Guards of the Shadowlands, the heroine, Lela Santos, is a modern girl with modern sensibilities. She lives in a world where women are equal to men (for the most part—we still have a ways to go). She thinks in a very individualistic way—and she believes in her own rights. If you attack her, good luck. She’s gonna go right for your throat.
The heroine of my newest novel, Of Metal and Wishes, is quite different. But then again, so is the world in which she lives.
I set it in an entirely fictional Asian culture (but was influenced, in part, by the amazing novels of Ha Jin and long conversations with my sister, who has lived in China for the better part of the last seventeen years). Wen, the heroine, has been groomed for a life of upper middle class ease. But when her genteel mother dies, Wen goes to live with her father, the physician at the local meat factory. There, she faces a toxic microculture of sexual harassment and oppression, classism and racism.
As I was writing the book, I had to think carefully about Wen. If I were living in a culture where women are thought of as lesser, as property, where they are burdened with maintaining their “virtue” but blamed when men impose themselves, how would I react?
Then I realized that was the worst question I could possibly ask.
I am a modern woman. Let me be more specific—I am an educated, white, modern American woman. If I were plucked out of my own context and placed into Wen’s, I’d be shocked and deeply offended. I’d probably speak up. And I’d knee any groper in the freaking balls, because hey, I took that self-defense class.
But Wen wouldn’t. She was raised to obey authority. She knows that all it takes is one defiant word or action, one careless moment, to end up penniless and hungry on the streets. She understands how vulnerable she is, and how her society views her behavior, and she’s internalized it, just like everyone else in that world. Beginning to shed those beliefs and prejudices is not an easy or smooth process, especially because she’s swimming against the current.
It is so hard for authors, and everyone else, to step out of their specific perspectives. I struggled with this as I wrote OMAW, and I know I did an imperfect, incomplete job despite my best efforts. We’re not even aware of our cultural and societal lenses most of the time, even though they color every single every action, image, or bit of news we must interpret. We’re so used to thinking that way that it just feels like thinking, not viewing things with a certain filter.
If you’re going to world-build, though, worldview is essential for authenticity. I think it’s actually the hardest part of creating a fantasy world that’s set outside one’s own culture and time. It doesn’t matter what you believe—what would your character believe, in the world that you’ve constructed for her? How would her behavior be shaped by others in this environment? What would she think about herself, and others?
If done thoroughly, that kind of world-building results in a certain amount of discomfort, both for the author and the reader. But I don’t think discomfort is the worst thing.
I’ll leave you with a viewing recommendation, just to illustrate this issue. There’s a 2001 docu-series by PBS called Manor House, where a group of volunteers signs up to go live at an Edwardian era manor house for a few months, with some of them assigned to be the lord and lady, and the rest assigned to be servants. All of them are modern folk, used to their modern lives and modern values. What happens when they’re placed in this new context and expected to adhere to Edwardian rules and values is riveting. It really reveals that lens, and exactly how hard it is to remove it.
So … do you think about this stuff as you read? Do certain types of characters appeal to you, and why? Have you read a book that did a good job at portraying a character with a strikingly different worldview from your own, and how did you react to it?
Plenty of food for though, Sarah. Yes, I have read plenty of books with characters who have different world views than my own and my reaction depends on the book and the character. IT is always interesting to read books with outstanding world building! I I loved Of Metal and Wishes, and I hope you will all read it. Now to the best part, Sarah is offering a chance to win a copy of Of Metal and Wishes along with some author swag. In order enter, read the Contest Policies and fill out the Rafflecotper. Open to U.S. and Canada only. A huge thanks to Sarah for stopping by today. Watch for her to return in October!a Rafflecopter giveaway
Here is my review:
Of Metal and Wishes (Of Metal and Wishes #1) by Sarah Fine
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.
Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Five stars: A brilliant retelling of The Phantom of the Opera.
Wen tucks her head down and scurries to the depot. The Noor are arriving today, the latest recruits to work the killing floors of the slaughterhouse where Wen now lives with her father who is the physician. Wen is curious about the Noor as she has been told her whole life that they are dangerous barbarians. Yet when they disembark, they don't seem barbaric. A tall, skinny young man with rust colored hair catches Wen's eye. Wen has never seen hair that color before, and in his eyes, spark with intelligence. Later after a humiliating encounter with one of the Noor in the cafeteria, shame and anger drive Wen to make a wish to the factory ghost, but Wen doesn't expect much to happen since she doesn't believe in ghosts. However, Wen is soon to learn that perhaps everything she knows regarding ghosts and the Noor is wrong. Wen quickly finds herself in a deadly fight for what is right, with many lives in the balance. Can Wen escape the horror of the slaughterhouse?
What I Liked:
- Gritty, beautiful and stunning are words that come to mind when trying to describe this novel. I wasn't sure what to expect going into Of Metal and Wishes, when I read the blurb saying this book was a blend of The Phantom of the Opera and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. Past experience has taught me that more often than not, these comparisons are shaky at best. That is not the case with this book. It is indeed a imaginative and exciting blend of both novels. You have the mysterious elements of Phantom in the ghost that supposedly haunts the slaughterhouse combined with the horrible conditions the workers in the slaughterhouse endure which is right out of The Jungle. Having read both novels, I could see how Fine masterfully took elements from both novels and reimagined them into something fresh and original that completely captured my heart and imagination.
- I know with Ms. Fine's work from previous experience (Sanctum and Guards of the Shadowland) that she excels at world building. Ms. Fine delivers another stunning world in this one. She captures the horror and dire circumstances of the slaughterhouse workers. Forced to work in foul conditions for unfair wages, toiling away day after day, never getting ahead, instead falling further and further into debt. The only hope many have are the fervent wishes they leave along with small offerings to the ghost in hopes that he might grant their wish. Yet, amidst all the gore and bleakness of the slaughterhouse, a young girl dares to question long held prejudices and in doing so, she finds a tenuous chance at love which shines brightly in the darkness. Then in the depths of the factory, a whole other world awaits. One built in metal and mechanics by one who was lost. Well done Ms. Fine!
- Wen is a heroine I truly admired. She is newly transplanted to the slaughterhouse, accompanying her father who is the doctor. She left behind the small cottage, the only home she ever knew, locking the doors and with them the memories of her dead mother. Her new life is one of endless labor and debt. Wen refuses to wallow in her grief, though, she pulls herself up and throws herself into her new life by assisting her father and learning all she can about medicine. She is caring and compassionate, and she makes tremendous sacrifices in order to assist others in great need. I loved how she quickly learned to set aside prejudices and see the Noor for who they were. Wen is brave, compassionate and determined. I loved her. She isn't without her flaws, though, and I liked seeing her make mistakes. I especially liked the difficulties she had with her relationship with her father. All in all, Wen comes across as genuine.
- Melik, the red headed Noor, is the perfect romantic interest. He is also kind and caring and willing to make great sacrifices to protect the people he cares about. He works tirelessly, but he refuses to let the conditions break him. He is fierce, proud and compassionate. I couldn't help but to fall in love with him.
- The romance is everything you hope for in YA but rarely get. It is slow burning, genuine and built on friendship. It takes its sweet time building, and when it blossoms it is lovely and beautiful.
- I can't write a review without addressing the ghost. I liked how the ghost kept my emotions in a tangle. He is capable of great good or evil, and often resorts to violence as a means to deliver an act of kindness. On one page, I felt sympathetic toward him and on another, angry. He is good and evil personified. I loved this tragically flawed character and I am interested to see where he will go from here.
- The overall pace is quick and enthralling. Once I picked this one up, I couldn't put it down. I wanted more and more. There is never a dull moment in this one since it never lets up. The end left me breathless and agonizing for more. I was thinking this was a stand alone, but the end is open to many new possibilities, and I just learned there will be a sequel. I can't wait!
And The Not So Much:
- While I thought the world building was excellent, my one hesitation was that it comes across early on as a novel set in the early twentieth century with rather primitive methods used in the slaughterhouse, but then later, the reader encounters strange, complex mechanical/robotic creations. There is a small discussion on a war and a government that utilizes highly advanced machinery, but there is very little to glean on the world beyond the slaughterhouse and the small surrounding village. I was curious to learn more about the outside world and about the government. I have a feeling this will be addressed in the second book.
- This isn't a book for those who are faint at heart. There is violence and gore, and plenty of disturbing scenes when it comes to the work in the slaughterhouse. If you have read The Jungle, you will know what to expect. It is tragic, haunting, dark and gritty.
- I was itching to know more about Wen and her relationship with her mother. Even though it is only briefly mentioned, it plays a big role in the novel. I kept expecting for flashbacks in order see the relationship. I was disappointed that there wasn't more as I thought a bit of the emotional impact I should have felt when Wen had to let go of her mother a piece at a time was missed because I didn't have more peeks at Wen's past with her mother.
- The ending is sweet and brutal as it left me hungering for more. I need the sequel now!
Of Metal and Wishes is a book that sucked me in and held me captive until the final pages. Ms. Fine is a master at creating memorable worlds and genuine characters. This is poignant, haunting and beautiful story set in a bleak and dire world which makes the hopeful moments shine even more brightly. I cannot recommend this one enough. It is truly an astonishing book that you should read.
"There's nothing wrong with being scared. It only means something important is at stake."
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for this review.
Don't miss Sarah's other thrilling series: Guards of the Shadowlands.