✎Title: Of Metal and Wishes (Of Metal and Wishes #1)
✎Author: Sarah Fine
✎Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
✎Publication date: 5th August 2014
Of Metal and Wishes, by Sarah Fine, is a supernatural-y (or is it?!) ghost story (or is it?!) that immediately introduces a diverse setting with a reimagined Asia. Wen, the daughter of a doctor who works for the owners of a meat factory where immigrant Noors are used as cheap labour, is forced into work at the same factory as her father following her mother’s death and the difficult financial times that follow. At the factory she begins work as her father’s assistant, putting her mother’s carefully-taught stitching to good use as she substitutes fabric for flesh and begins to consider a future in medicine herself.
There is a legend within the factory—the story of a ghost. This Ghost, the spirit of a worker who died on the killing floor seven years ago, is said to grant wishes when an offering is placed at his altar. Wen, of course, does not believe this. She doesn’t believe in the Ghost to whom everyone leaves offerings and speaks their most secret wishes and desires.
But when one of the Noor workers crosses the line and humiliates Wen, she makes a rash wish and demands the Ghost impress her. The Ghost answers her wish in a far more brutal fashion than Wen could imagine. There is blood on Wen’s hands now, even if it was the Ghost who caused the Noor boy harm.
Wen does what she can to help, aiding her father and making sure there is medicine to give the Noor, whose treatment at the hands of Wen’s people is appalling at best and vile at worst. She soon regrets ever making the rash wish. Only, there is a connection forming between Wen and the Ghost whether she likes it or not. Before long, she is discovering the surreal truth about the Ghost—and just why he now haunts the darker places of the factory.
Meanwhile, one of the factory bosses as his eye on Wen: she’s young and pretty and he soon decides to abuse his power and put her in an uncomfortable position out of which she can’t easily wriggle. And Wen’s father is no help, caught up in the cycle of debt that working at the factory creates. She is on her own.
Except that she isn’t… not any more. On the same day that Wen demands the Ghost impress her, a Noor boy catches her eye and soon Wen is finding excuses to see him. Of course fraternising with the Noor is forbidden, but Wen can’t seem to think of the Noor the same way those around her do. She sees into their hearts and past the colours of their skin and hair. She soon realises she might be getting in over her head.
But not before the Ghost takes notice and shows signs of jealousy.
In this eerie and strange retelling of Phantom of the Opera, Wen is forced to grow up and accept adulthood very quickly indeed. Between fending off the unwanted advances of one of the bosses and learning more about the Ghost and his secrets, Wen is falling hard in love—and with someone she could never be with.
Trapped in her situation by her father’s debt to the factory, her own dwindling resources and wracked with guilt over her wish, Wen finds life at the factory difficult. When the Ghost raises the stakes and a terrible murder occurs, she must choose her side and make a stand, lest she regret it forever. And with one lot of blood on her hands, she’s not sure she could stand to face herself if more is spilled.
Of Metal and Wishes is atmospheric and compelling, but I was hoping for more of a supernatural feel to the book. Wen is likeable and relatable, but she is ultimately a little bland and lack lustre. The romance doesn’t really feel very developed, yet neither does it fall entirely flat. The resonances with The Phantom of the Opera are intriguing, but I would have wanted more. More of the Ghost’s obsession with Wen and more eeriness surrounding the Ghost and what he can do. There was something a little lacking in the ending. Ultimately, the book fell short for me because I was expecting something far more haunting and atmospheric.
We are presented with a stark illustration of racism and the commentary is both accurate and repulsive—which is always a sure sign that the topic is being handled correctly. If reading about racist themes and characters in a book doesn’t make you angry, then the writer isn’t doing it properly. Sarah Fine is. The issues are handled perfectly and Wen’s own views morph and change throughout the book, which is a fantastically realistic of showing how taught views and opinions can shatter and change through one’s own experiences.
Of Metal and Wishes was a good read, but it certainly wasn’t what I was expecting and I was left a little disappointed in the end. I wanted a ghost story and I didn’t get one. Still, it is deserving of its three stars and highly recommended.