City of a Thousand DollsFeatured
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a child. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. Nisha makes her way as Matron’s assistant, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow. Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city’s handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die.
Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls’ deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls—but her own life.
This story is set in a fantasy world that strongly reminds me of China, which is one of my favorite settings. The Empire, the caste system, the two child law and the abandonment of girls, the refusal to acknowledge the worth of anyone with a physical imperfection, the customs and outfits ... it all said China with maybe a dash of Japan to me. I really enjoyed the world. The author brings a fresh voice and setting to the YA fantasy genre, and she handles her world building with ease. I was fully immersed in Nisha's world from the first page.
I also enjoyed Nisha herself. She's a strong, resilient heroine who takes action when she needs to. I liked seeing her character arc develop as the story progressed. She questioned things that I would question, and the author didn't give any easy answers.
The violence in the story is handled discreetly (most of it is off-page), and Nisha's voice sounds younger than many YA heroines (perhaps aided by the fact that she spends most of her time mind-talking with a herd of cats), and I don't think that's a bad thing. I would feel comfortable handing this book to a younger YA reader or a middle grade reader ready to take on something with a bit more meat on its bones. I think older YA readers might have trouble connecting with Nisha because of this, but there's certainly a need for YA heroines that can reach a younger audience.
What Left Me Wanting More:
While I enjoyed the idea of the murder mystery, the execution left me wanting more. Many times Nisha had a revelation, and I couldn't follow along with her because I hadn't been given enough information, or the information I had didn't show me why that revelation was significant. I also sometimes had difficulty buying into Nisha's motivation for continuing to solve the mystery, although the author pulled it off quite nicely at the end. And I was gratified to be surprised by the real villain.
While I loved the world building, I struggled with the secrets surrounding Nisha. So much is kept from her, and sometimes the cats simply fall back on a "we promised and we can't break our promise" to continue to hold secrets from her. As a reader, this frustrated me because it felt like the author was simply trying to drag the revelation out to the very end, rather than the revelation being unattainable because of difficult obstacles.
I also didn't connect with the romance. It felt more like an afterthought, and I didn't see any chemistry between Nisha and Devan when they were together.
However, the light romance, the secrets held out of reach, and the murder mystery did feel very appropriate for the younger YA reader, so take this criticism with a grain of salt. While this book might not ring all the bells for an older YA fantasy reader, this might be just the book to introduce newer readers to the genre.
With stellar world building, a resourceful heroine, and a few surprises up its sleeve, CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS is a unique fantasy story perfect for younger YA readers.