This love story for the ages, set in a reimagined industrial Asia, is a little dark, a bit breathless, and completely compelling. A “grisly and satisfying” tale (Publishers Weekly) inspired by The Phantom of the Opera.
Sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic, housed in a slaughterhouse staffed by the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor. Wen often hears the whisper of a ghost in the slaughterhouse, a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. And after one of the Noor humiliates Wen, the ghost grants an impulsive wish of hers—brutally.
Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including the outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the ghost. As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen is torn between 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. Will she determine whom to trust before the factory explodes, taking her down with it?
In contrast to dystopian novels with world-shaking stakes, Fine (the Guards of the Shadowlands series) focuses on a detailed microcosm within an unjust society. She centers her tale of forbidden love and social awakening on a single industrial complex, where brutal bosses control workers by keeping them permanently in debt. Sixteen-year-old Wen has recently come to live with her father, a doctor at the Gochan factories. There, Wen is subject to the constant threat of sexual coercion, especially when she wears the richly embroidered dresses that remind her of her late seamstress mother. Meanwhile, the factory is wracked with ethnic tension between Wen's people, the East Asian inspired Itanyai, and the Noor, despised migrant workers. Wen gradually sheds her prejudices after she inadvertently contributes to an accident involving a Noor worker and the Ghost, a Phantom of the Opera like presence who grants the wishes of Gochan's people in sometimes-horrific ways. Though the course of Wen's enlightenment offers few surprises, Fine creates a memorable atmosphere of desperation, deftly weaving together numerous subplots that intersect in a grisly and satisfying climax. Ages 14 up.