Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore


MAGIC UNDER GLASS was on a list of Jane Eyre retellings, which I was a little skeptical about at first because when I read the summary, it didn't sound very Jane Eyre-y.

This is the story of a girl named Nimira, who comes from a Pan Asian-inspired country that mostly seems to be Indian-inspired but has flavors from some other countries, too. She is a dancer, and even though dancing is well respected where she comes from, it's considered pretty base and deplorable in the England-inspired asshole country where she resides now.

One day, a man steals her away from her low-paying job with the offer of a more private performance. He has an automaton that his previous dancing girls thought was haunted and wants a living human girl to perform alongside it at parties. In exchange, she also gets room and board. It seems like a pretty sweet deal and obviously she takes it, because the boss that she has now is a total creep.

But as soon as she gets to the house, she starts noticing weird stuff. The servant girls are oddly frightened, and there's strange rumors about her new employer, Hollin's, dead wife. And the automaton that she's supposed to dance with seems like it might be alive after all... and in desperate need of help.

Reviews for this book are mixed, which both surprises me and not. The original cover for this book made it seem like this was going to be a very light romantasy for girls, when actually, this book has a lot of really dark themes like colonialism, orientalism, racism, political corruption, and capitalist greed. Most of these themes are actually handled pretty well, including the orientalism + racism, although I am guessing that maybe some readers looking for lighter fare got pissed that the subjects got so heavy.

This also really isn't a romance in the usual sense. Nimira is very strong but all the men around her are very weak: morally, in their convictions, or physically. She is the savior, and even the nicest love interest (who is very cinnamon roll-like) isn't able to protect her or court her in the usual way. Nimira plays the active role that is normally reserved for the hero, and people looking for traditional fantasy gender roles in their romances with "strong, swoonworthy heroes" probably wouldn't like this.

As for me, I like it when a story takes risks. This is more Jane Eyre-inspired than it is a direct retelling, but the gothic adjacent vibes are definitely there, and I liked that, too. I'd recommend this to readers of Gail Carson Levine and Diana Wynne Jones (the book comped itself to Libba Bray and Charlotte Bronte, but I think that was another mistake-- it's not really like either).

4 out of 5 stars

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