Review: “Of Metal and Wishes”

Sarah Fine’s Of Metal and Wishes lay like an unclaimed promise on my kitchen table, but I was too swamped with work to read for fun. Then late one night, I peeked into the promise and was sucked in. A few pages later, my annoying inner adult made me go to bed, but before I did, I skipped to the end. (I know! SO wrong!)

And I was confused — but intrigued.

Two days passed. When I finally sat down to read, I didn’t stand up again until I finished.

Sixteen-year-old Wen, grief-stricken after the death of her mother and the loss of their home, and her doctor father have moved to the grounds of a slaughterhouse, one of three heinous factories ruled by contemptible bosses, where people sell their souls to the company store. Now instead of embroidering delicate gardens on silk, Wen must sew straight and true, and together she and her father repair the sick and the mangled.

When a silly boy, one of the Noor brought in as cheap labor, humiliates her in the cafeteria, she wishes for the ghost of the slaughterhouse to punish him. She gets her wish. Guilt-stricken, she befriends Melik, the leader of the Noor, and is in turn befriended by the Ghost, setting off a chain reaction of love and hate that leaves her questioning everything she thought was true and bringing them all to an apocalyptic climax.

A loose teen retelling of The Phantom of the Opera, the characters deal not only with family and first love, but also with violence, sexual predation, human trafficking, and interracial tensions against a visceral and clearly drawn background. I wish teens today were blissfully unaware of this dark side of life, but even in this Midwestern city where I write, human trafficking is well-established, and I’m sure Fine in her day job of child psychologist has seen more than plenty of darkness.

Wen and the others Of Metal and Wishes are victors, however, not just survivors. Wen is a role model, making strong choices from a loving heart, and Fine’s lyrical writing shines against a horrid, smelly background.

The story ends somewhat ambiguously, which I rather liked, but I’ve read that Of Metal and Wishes is a duology, so I’ll definitely be looking forward to seeing this strong heroine again.

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