There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.
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.
Disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of the source material of this book. Back in middle school, I lived, breathed, loved The Phantom of the Opera after a good friend introduced me to it. Hell, I still love the heck out of it today. It’s close to my heart. Once I heard via the blogosphere that there was a YA retelling being published of it, I knew I had to snatch it up. And while it sat on my bookshelf for a year before getting to it, I unfortunately don’t really regret the wait. For while I did enjoy the book, I just did not feel the connection to the protagonist that I would have liked to. Perhaps my expectations were too high because of my passion for the book and musical.
I keep wondering if it was the mood I was in while reading this book that made me ultimately feel rather meh about most of the characters, since plot-wise there was absolutely nothing wrong with the novel. I loved the story, the setting, the atmosphere of the slaughterhouse… It was brutal and terrifying and so very satisfying. I warn you now, if you do not like reading in graphic detail violence and slaughterhouse everyday life, you WILL have a rough time with this book. I feel like the setting really captured many of the more violent aspects of The Phantom of the Opera, and the Ghost’s preoccupations with mechanical devices replaces that of Erik’s obsession with music. Still, I felt a lot of the beauty of Phantom was missed in this book at times due to the new setting.
My biggest issue was that I did not feel connected to the romance between Melik and Wen. Though I’ve always been most interested by the character of Erik (and subsequently the Ghost in this book), even in Phantom I could feel how right the connection between Christine and Raoul was. I just was not able to really swoon over Fine’s characters, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily anything she did wrong. I was more invested in the growing turmoil within the factory. More than anything, I felt myself focusing on the Ghost and his behavior and actions more than any other character in the book. He was just the most fascinating, even though Wen and Melik had their own clear motivations. If I read the second book in the duology, which I’m still debating on, it will be to see what happens with the Ghost.
I believe, overall, it may have been my interest in the Ghost over the other characters which made Wen and Melik feel more flat to me. While the other characters were fascinating in their own right, no one really compared to how interesting the Ghost is as a sort of anti-hero. I think, in many respects, this happens in the source material for me as well. I am incredibly happy that the Ghost has many of the same character traits as Erik and Fine pulls him off wonderfully as a character. He’s childlike in his cruelty and manner, but a genius nonetheless.
Of Metal and Wishes, then, does not capture all of the elements that made me love the source material so much. The Ghost’s mechanical creations do not quite capture the beauty in the horror that I fell for. But this book stands up well on its own merit and plot. The setting of the slaughterhouse was a unique one for me and it was nice to read about PoC characters, even if I did not get quite as much of their culture in this book as I would have liked – it was difficult to really place them as I believe they were of fictional ethnicities that corresponded to real life ones. I think in many ways some of the characters suffer while the plot shines golden, and I give it three and a half stars.