Series: Of Metal and Wishes #2
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on August 4th, 2015
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War erupts in this bittersweet sequel to Of Metal and Wishes, inspired by The Phantom of the Opera and called “relentlessly engrossing” by The Romantic Times.
In the year since the collapse of the slaughterhouse where Wen worked as her father’s medical assistant, she’s held all her secrets close. She works in the clinic at the weapons factory and sneaks away to nurse Bo, once the Ghost, now a boy determined to transform himself into a living machine. Their strange, fragile friendship soothes some of the ache of missing Melik, the strong-willed Noor who walked away from Wen all those months ago—but it can’t quell her fears for him.
The Noor are waging a rebellion in the west. When she overhears plans to crush Melik’s people with the powerful war machines created at the factory, Wen makes the painful decision to leave behind all she has known—including Bo—to warn them. But the farther she journeys into the warzone, the more confusing things become. A year of brutality seems to have changed Melik, and Wen has a decision to make about him and his people: How much is she willing to sacrifice to save them from complete annihilation?
Of Metal and Wishes was a shock to my system. On one hand, I was so excited about a Phantom of the Opera retelling with a steampunk/Asian twist. Whoa, that is a LOT of artistic leeway. But on the other hand, I kept telling my brain to reign it in a bit. This is me when it comes to books with awesome descriptions:
So I was going into the book in blissful awareness that I might get burned once again.
Of Metal and Wishes did hurt my heart. But it was SUCH A GOOD HURT. I loved the first novel. I loved the world building, and the description, and that the author based her story on a strong cultural foundation found in our own reality. I love a great fantasy that bases their people on someone other than Anglo white people, steering away from the default.
When this arrived in the mail, I was beside myself. I was so excited that I started to get teary. I took pictures of the book, added it and then…..just stared at it. I was so ready for this book, but what if it wasn’t anywhere near as great as the first book? It was time to pick it up and give the sequel a shot.
One of my favorite things about a sequel is the possibilities. The author can focus on the story or other characters, since the reader is already established with the main cast from previous books. This is a great opportunity to explore the world with a fresh set of eyes and a new angle.
However, the second book can create a slump, since most of the action and the ideas were burned through at the start of the arc. This was one of my fears for this one: could it live up to the previous novel? Fine takes this opportunity to venture to a new part of her universe, getting the audience closer to Melik and his own home territory.
The romance, and the odd love
triangle web was one of the stronger elements in the first book, but it didn’t take up more room than was necessary. Of Metal and Wishes was not what I deem “Operation: Get a Date”, the term I coined when a plot in a story is basically wish fulfillment, and the plot devices and the theme take a backseat to the romance. This wasn’t the case for the first novel. Yes, the romance was one of the driving forces, but the novel also went deeper, and explored other relationships between the main characters and the rest of the population. I actually enjoyed it. So what is left for the second novel, even though the story left off on a cliffhanger?
If it was even possible, O Dreams and Rust becomes darker than its predecessor, and the first one was pretty gruesome. However, where book one explored the racial lines, the second book dives further under the surface, exploring trust and faith in another person, to see if love passes or fails during turbulent times. In the first novel, the romance was easier for the two characters, even faced with the racism of each culture. Wen and Melik were in a smaller world, a bubble within the story. The second novel takes them to a new level, when they battle the bigger picture.
On the subject of the romance, both books tote multiple romantic partners, but I hesitate to apply the label of “love triangle”. I see it unfit to shove Wen’s dilemma into a small, enclosed label. Wen is a wonderful example of how people can own little pieces of your heart, and the levels of affection for each owner of a piece.
Bo is one of the most complex characters I have ran across in fiction. What he did previous to the second book were honest crimes against humanity. He does try hard to redeem himself, but the blood on his hands drips thickly. Wen struggles with the same feelings, trying to sort out the boy from the monster, encouraging his humanity to the surface to replace the war machine he has become, due to injustice and untreated emotional trauma. She loves him, but not in the way he wants her to love him. Bo’s most defining quality is the loneliness he faces because of his circumstances. This same theme was one of the attractions for me in Phantom of the Opera, and Fine perfectly captures that dark, painful feeling of isolation and solitude. This isn’t even the “All I have are cats and ice cream and I kinda want to go see a movie” loneliness, but the heart shattering, emotional crippling state that we have all sadly experiences in our lives.
Even though there is quite a bit of emphasis on the romance, Fine, however, never solely depends on the intimacy to carry her books. This is a story that goes beyond testing one’s love. The novel is bold enough to challenge notions of war, loyalty and the grey areas of wrong and right. Fine, once again, stretches past her own love theme to fold a darker, deeper theme into the novel: the existence of war and the evils that come on the heels of bloodshed. In reality, our era is filled with war propaganda and forced patriotism, and Fine doesn’t hold back to explore the social ramifications of warfare. The citizens are as much of a resource as guns and machinery. The warring nations depend on their people to rally their spirits and define the fights, to give meaning to the fights and the deaths. Through her protagonist, she sets up the very fundamental question of “Who is right in crusades and struggles?”
The author steps outside and points out how both sides commit unspeakable horrors all in the name of victory. How can you punish your enemy for doing what you are performing as well? Where is the humanity of killing each other for the sake of “right” and “superiority”? The emotional threads of the book was a challenge for the audience to answer the questions that Wen presents in the text, solidifying the plot of the novel as a relevant piece of social studies.
Fine, once more, captures the deeper, more complex themes and emotions to build a powerful story. While some of the novel is sweet and sugary, there is also a bitter, dark undertone accentuate the grittiness of the worldbuilding. Fine doesn’t steer her story away from some very controversial topics of patriotism, race supremacy and morality in a time of war. She builds some great characters in her first novel, and with skilled hands, tears them back down to recreate them. It is painful and beautiful, filled with sorrow and pricey victories. I’m honestly very upset to see the series end, but the ride was thrilling while it lasted.