“Magic Under Glass”
Author: Jaclyn Dolamore
Synopsis (taken from GoodReads): Nimira is a music-hall performer forced to dance for pennies to an audience of leering drunks. When wealthy sorcerer Hollin Parry hires her to do a special act - singing accompaniment to an exquisite piano-playing automaton, Nimira believes it is the start of a new life. In Parry's world, however, buried secrets stir.
Unsettling below-stairs rumours abound about ghosts, a mad woman roaming the halls, and of Parry's involvement in a gang of ruthless sorcerers who torture fairies for sport. When Nimira discovers the spirit of a dashing young fairy gentleman is trapped inside the automaton's stiff limbs, waiting for someone to break the curse and set him free, the two fall in love. But it is a love set against a dreadful race against time to save the entire fairy realm, which is in mortal peril.
Cover impressions: I, like many people I imagine, first heard about “Magic Under Glass” after the less than publicity friendly but justifiable outrage over the whitewashing of the heroine on the first cover of the book. Luckily, the publishers listened to the complaints and gave the book a lovely new cover with the appropriate cover model so remember good readers, public pressure does sometimes work! But that unfortunate incident aside, this has been a book on my radar for a while after several excellent reviews and the promise of a book with Steampunk elements that wouldn’t make me want to fall asleep.
Indeed, “Magic Under Glass” is a very sweet read, chock full of charm and imagination. It’s a book that can easily be read in one sitting, which I found to be both a good and bad thing; good because it was well paced and highly readable, and bad because the slightness of the novel left me feeling a little unsatisfied. The story and world Dolamore has created is so jam packed with potential and while the story occasionally lives up to it, I felt like there was definitely room for more. The alternative Victorian-esque universe of forbidden sorcery, fairy-human political strife and clockwork creatures was fascinating but much of it is only hinted at. I understand a sequel is in the works but as a stand-alone novel, which “Magic Under Glass” works well as, there was much opportunity for these elements to be expanded upon. Unfortunately, the ending as a result also feels a little rushed. Larger events are hinted at, ones of political complexity and cultural hostilities, which I was eager to learn more about, but were never given much time to truly develop. Dolamore writes wonderful, very readable prose, and clearly knows how to pace a story, so I firmly believe she could have easily added another 50 or so pages to this novel for such elements, as well as some extra character development, without any change to the structure of the novel.
The novel’s strengths lie mainly in the heroine Nimira, a strong, independent if occasionally stubborn and entitled young woman who has come from a life of privilege and adoration to one of decidedly less importance, where she is looked down upon both for her occupation and ethnicity. I enjoyed Nimira’s voice immensely, especially in the way she fights to be recognised as more than a trouser girl. Her interactions with most of the other characters seem a little one-sided, which is mostly down to the supporting cast being much less developed than she is. The villain is far too one-dimensional and predictable to ever be truly convincing and the potential her early discussions with Erris, the fairy prince trapped inside the automaton, have potential and a tentative charm, it quickly turns to romance with no real depth, which was a great disappointment, especially since Nimira’s interactions with Hollin, a much more complex and developed character, are much more believable as the beginnings of a possible relationship. I never truly believed the evolution of Nimira and Erris’ relationship.
While I thoroughly enjoyed “Magic Under Glass”, I do feel that it could have benefited from further character and plot development, as the potential offered in this book is truly great. The beginnings of wonderfully imaginative and varied world-building, as well as the hints of complex political intrigue, give Dolmore a great head start in creative what I hope to be a rich and enjoyable series. This world would make a wonderful Studio Ghibli movie. It’s a quick, if very slight read but it leaves the reader wanting more.