4 out of 5 stars
This novel is an asian-style, dystopic rewrite of Phantom of the Opera. It is hard enough to find dystopias set in not-Europe-or-North-America, so that was already a draw, even without the plot being a re-imagining of one of my favourite musicals.
Wen has just lost her mother and has gone to live with her father as his assistant. He is a doctor who serves the workers in a cattle slaughtering plant and life, while not wonderful, is at least somewhat comfortable. The factory owners then decide to hire some Noors, a different race of men who are said to be beastly and awful. They way they are treated soon start to reveal more about Wen’s society than she may be comfortable knowing. There are also rumours about a wish-granting ghost who haunts the factory.
This is one of the very few books I have read over the last few years that was not on my to-read list (now sitting at 363 books. Eep!). I loved the cover and glanced over the blurb but did not really absorb much of it. As a result, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out if this was historical fiction or dystopian fiction. That ends up being a testament to how realistically Sarah Fine can create a world. I could not tell it from the real one.
Wen’s position and struggles are also very close to what indentured servants and workers during the Industrial revolution would have faced and the descriptions of the working conditions and the day to day life trying to survive are shockingly lifelike.
The character of the Phantom is very sympathetic, with most of the blame for his actions falling on the inhumane conditions in which he grew up. His relationship is Wen is complicated but touching and I found myself really sympathizing with him, even as he continued to make really questionable decisions.
This book was so vivid and the premise and mixture of genres so unexpected that this book ends up being very unique and interesting. Anyone who is looking for something a little different in their dystopias should give this one a go.