So Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore is an interesting read. Her books always are. I can’t decide if I like them or not, but I always think the setup is fascinating and unique. This one was no exception. It takes place in fantasyland, except you also get the idea that it’s late-20s/early-30s Vienna or something (and then I checked the author’s website and her inspiration was 1930s Berlin, so I think I win!), and that’s pretty much the best, because I always prefer the type of fantasy that’s more based in real world things with a touch that’s off or speculative over Middle Earth types. So there’s a great setting, and then there’s an interesting premise, which is vaguely Pushing Daisies-esque. Basically, two girls work at a club. They each have occasion to run into a strange guy, Freddy, who is the Pie Maker of the story, and start to learn about some creepy goings-on in the city having to do with missing people (but they’re mostly missing poor people, so who care, right?), money, and MIA soldiers assumed to be dead.
Okay, so that’s utterly confusing, and it’s sort of on purpose, because it’s not a book I can easily describe for you without giving everything away. So instead, let’s just talk about some of cool things I think the book is inspired by.
We already covered 1930s Berlin. Not that I’ve been there, but I think this pretty much gets it. If there is one thing Dolamore is good at, it’s world building. I pretty instantly felt like I was watching a movie, with great costumes, dark but well-dressed sets, the works. It’s well put together. We also covered Pushing Daisies. While very different in tone, this book has a lot of the same qualities, like a stylized, fantasy-historical setting; a boy with magical powers; mystery solving; an girl who’s not quite dead or alive; and very quirky characters.
If you’ve seen the movie “Metropolis” (I have not, but now I’m curious), you should see parallels to that, too. So says Dolamore. I like an author who is very open about inspiration and themes and ideas. We all like them, so just acknowledge what you like and why you like it. It’s cool.
There is a war mentioned throughout the book, and you get the idea it’s sort of that everyone is still recovering from WWI, even though the timeline doesn’t totally match. And similarly to how people recovered after WWI (though, again, I know the timeline doesn’t quite work), there is a sort of parallel to the Spiritualism movement that is really interesting, when you consider how hard it is to make humbug (I recently learned what that word actually means – like, not bah! humbug, and I love it) magic work in a world where there actually is magic. It’s impressive. Then there is also an interesting problem in this world – “bound sickness.” Country bumpkin types get “bound” when they get married (think an impulsive, young lovers thing to do like getting married while drunk in Vegas), and one of the characters, Thea, has a mom who is now “bound sick,” because her husband has been assumed dead (which means she should be released from her bond), and yet she still feels connected to him, and the confusion is making her dizzy and sick. Fascinating stuff, truly!
So yeah. Fascinating stuff! The plot in this book gets a bit murky from time to time, but it’s already a pretty murky, weird world with a lot going on, so it’s probably worth checking out. A bit dark, a bit quirky, a bit diverse (lesbians! in speculative fiction! is that even allowed? we’re finally getting somewhere with diversity in publishing), a bit magical. You haven’t read a book like it.