Nimira left her home of Tiansher hoping to find fame and fortune in Lorinar, only end up a singing “trouser girl” in a low-class show. Then Hollin Parry, a well-to-do gentleman sorcerer, invites her to create a show with him, singing to accompany his fairy-made automaton piano player. Nim jumps at the chance — but when she arrives at his estate, she learns that it’s haunted by the ghost of his wife, and that there’s something strange about the automaton… In fact, it might just be alive.
I enjoyed this book, but there wasn’t much to it. It only took me a few hours to read, and after I finished, I was left without any serious impressions about it, positive or negative. Which makes it kind of hard to review.
Here’s the best I can offer: the world building was really interesting. It was clearly a fantasy take on Victorian England — I wasn’t positive where Nim’s homeland was, certainly somewhere in Fantasy Asia — with plenty of magic mixed in. Parry’s house featured tigers turned to gold by alchemy, and garden fairies turned into decorative paperweights. There was war brewing with the fairies (a second war, actually), and interesting references to the mermaids Nim’s ship had to pay off to journey to Lorinar, and some other magic creatures. The world building was definitely my favorite part. I wish there had been more to the book so we could get further into it.
Nim herself didn’t leave me with much to say about her as a character, though I thought her situation was handled interestingly. She had been a child of privilege in her home country, who came to Lorinar after she lost that; she was self-aware enough to realize she craved having the trappings of wealth back, and that was part of her motivation throughout. The fact that she was also clearly an Exotic Other to the people of Lorinar, but that we saw it from her POV and how uncomfortable and upset it made her, was an interesting touch. (And makes the fact that the book was rejacketed to show Nim as a character of color all the more important.)
The plot itself didn’t wow me. The idea of the fairy automaton was very cool — the secret of who and what it turned out to be even more so — but that largely became a romance that I was never sold on. It happened too quickly, it seemed to be largely based on pity and intrigue and not actual connection. I was somewhat disappointed. Alternately, you have the subplot about Parry and his wife’s ghost, which borrowed quite heavily from Jane Eyre. To the point where I recognized that without actually having read Jane Eyre. I wasn’t terribly impressed by either plot or the book’s resolution.
Overall, the book was… fine, if somewhat forgettable. I feel like there was no there there; I wish it had been meatier, something I could sink my teeth into. More depth (of character in particular, and plot in general) would probably have improved it a lot. It earns an entirely middle-of-the-road two and a half cupcakes.