Thursday, March 7, 2013
Murder Mystery, Fantasy, and Real Problems all in One!
When a country puts a limit on how many children are allowed per family, what happens to the "extra" kids? And when one gender is preferred over the other, the treatment of the lesser orphans can be horrifying. We have seen this in our own world, but Miriam Forster takes a real issue and places it in a fantasy world where real solutions were created in City of a Thousand Dolls.
Nisha has no past, and even her future is unclear. But she has lived fairly well in the City of a Thousand Dolls since she was found and brought there as a young baby. She can speak with the sacred cats in the city and seems to hear things she shouldn't around the city. As the Matron of the city's eyes and ears, she has a special place in the city, but still, she has no House to call her own. Each house takes the orphan girls left by their families who prefer boys in the world where how many children you have are limited. They take the girls and train them so they may be Reclaimed when they are ready, and returned to society with a House and a life. Without being claimed, they will never be accepted into society. Nisha knows her talents are limited, but she desperately hopes her romance with the second-born prince will lead him to Reclaim her.
When a girl has died falling from a roof, the entire city is rocked. But when a second girl is found dead by the fountain, the stench of foul play looms over the city. With her mysterious talents and perceptiveness, Nisha offers to quietly investigate the murders for the Matron. What she uncovers, however, is a murderer who specifically targets certain girls, and Nisha hasn't figured out the pattern. But when the murderer goes after her only true friend in the city, the girl who is training to marry the prince and become princess, she knows she will have to take risks in order to prevent another murder. What she didn't realize was that there are even bigger and deeper secrets surrounding her own life. As Nisha digs deeper, she unravels webs of lies she never thought existed, and those lies will change her life forever.
This was such an intriguing book and interesting world, I am almost sad that I think it is a stand-alone. Some of the world-building was too slow for me, and left me struggling to understand the story, but on a whole, this was a really brilliant world Forster created! It really ended in a way where it doesn't seem like there will be another story, but maybe that will change! I really wanted to hear so much more about the city, the world as a whole, the wandering tribes, etc. Especially the cats! It seemed like such a strange side story to have Nisha able to speak to the cats, but the story behind it (which I won't divulge and you have to get to the end for) was SO interesting! And I want MORE!
But Nisha was the real story for the entire book. She was so integral to the mystery surrounding the world, as she belonged but didn't even in a city full of outcasts. I loved the intrigue that surrounded her and in the end, she proved to be such an honorable and amazing young woman. I would love to see more about her as she continues through the world, learning more and more about who she was. It was amazing to see a young woman who had almost no past, present or future still fight to live and fight to protect those she loved. Nisha was the kind of character you want your young women to read about!
This book also delves to the heart of the issue of limiting children to families, as has been the case in China. They have the same problems of infanticide and female orphans China has faced in the rash solution to overpopulation, but the way the City of a Thousand Dolls has chosen to protect those orphan girls is amazing and controversial at the same time. Many are married off or taken as mistress to the highest "bidder", while others become healers and musicians. It isn't a perfect system, but the Matron is doing the best she can for girls who would otherwise never have a future. The idea of sacrificing a few to unhappy lives to save the many comes up more than once, and it is discussion-worthy. I would definitely have a student read this book and research China's practices and consequences when we were done. Sometimes a fantasy world can help you see more about your own world than you thought it could!