Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.
As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.
I started this book with some trepidation, because it had received mixed reviews. To my delight, however Of Metal and Wishes did not disappoint. From the first pages I was hooked by both the strong (at times, raw) voice, as well as the beautiful writing. Sixteen-year-old Wen once lived a comfortable life with her mother in a home on a hill, where her mother taught her beautiful embroidery skills and hoped for Wen to be accepted into society as a respected lady.
All that changes when Wen's mother dies and Wen must move with her father into the factory beside the town, where he works as a doctor. Wen world completely changes as she goes from being a society hopeful to her father's assistant. "Instead of embroidering silk, I embroider skin." (p. 2) Cue the chills.
This book is a retelling of the Phantom of the Opera, but with a unique enough set of characters and setting that the story stands as a unique work of its own. The Opera house is exchanged for a slaughterhouse. Wen, instead of an up and coming opera singer with a promising career ahead of her, put back together the men broken by the machines and cruel underbosses of the company. Our Phantom, or the Ghost named Bo, is a young man who once worked among the noise of the factory and was nearly destroyed by the machines. Melik, in place of Raoul, is a member of the despised Noor race, who comes with his friends to the factory in hopes of securing a living for themselves and their families back home.
Some of those who have already reviewed this book knock the story for its depictions of rape culture. And indeed, this culture is prominent in Wen's society. Women's virginity is prized and they are expected to behave modestly and keep themselves from compromising situations with men. (Note, that as is also part of rape culture, men are not expected to honor these same boundaries, and women are held at fault when any men chooses to cross the line.) Because of these depictions, some reviewers rate the novel poorly. Here are my thoughts on the matter: Is rape culture an ugly way to live? Is it responsible for irreparable harm in society? Does it put the blame on the wrong group of people? Does it favor those who would claim power in the wrong way? YES. Is rape culture a very real part of our lives? Unfortunately ... YES! This is a real aspect of our world and our lives, and many readers of this novel will have had very strong encounters of their own with this culture. When authors produce stories, they are called to represent all facets of society, not just those that are the most honorable. They are called to represent real experiences of people--not just those we would most like to promote. Note that this novel does not promote rape culture, as seen when Melik describes to Wen his country, where women are seen as equals, where they are respected, where they are allowed to choose their companions and demonstrate their affect in public without scorn. (Add to this, that all the characters in the book who abuse women are the villains of the story.) Apply a little critical thinking, please. The presence of terrible circumstances in the book does not merit a rejection of the novel.
Rant aside, there were some weak points in the plot. Initially, I was confused when Melik rejects Wen, rather abruptly, for wishing ill upon the young man who had assaulted and shamed her in public. Those circumstances were not unknown to Melik (in fact, he'd been the one who'd put an end to the attack), so I couldn't understand why suddenly he questioned her helping the same man who had humiliated her. His questions are explained a few chapters later, but until then I was left scratching my head over the scene. And further on in the story, when Wen see Melik leaving from one of the pink-light salons (i.e. brothel) and became offended at the idea that he'd hire a prostitute ... well, this felt to me like a very overdone trope. Of course he hadn't been with a prostitute, I knew instantly that was the case and could see that this was a scene inserted to add drama and conflict. I was grateful to see later, however, a good explanation that justified his presence at a such place. Overall, I was impressed with the way this story weaves together many small elements to build its very climatic ending.
In the end, this was a book I absolutely enjoyed reading, and I look forward to the sequel this fall.