An exotic treat set in an entirely original, fantastical world brimming with deadly mystery, forbidden romance, and heart-stopping adventure.
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.
One of the first things that drew me to Forster's debut was the similarities to Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series for adults. Carey's books are definitely for an older audience (as they feature lots of adult content), but Forster's world has some similarities: an isolated estate where girls are apprenticed, taught, and eventually sold based on their skills, looks, etc. and a handsome and tempting boy from outside the walls. I've loved Carey's books for years (having read the first book, Kushiel's Dart, in seventh grade, when I was, in retrospect, probably much too young!) and have always wished there was something similar that was more appropriate for slightly younger readers and/or readers that would rather skip the sex as power but keep the romance. City of a Thousand Dolls is that book I often wished for... and it has far exceeded what I had hoped for.
Since this is a YA title, not adult, the sex and sexual power that motivates Carey's novel is absent and the girls are apprenticed as more than courtesans; girls are also taught to be musicians, healers, and assassins. I really enjoyed the diversity of the houses and having Nisha as a main character, a character free of the limitations of belonging to one specific house, which added an interesting dimension to the novel.
Though the romantic plot line is often a secondary concern next to the mystery elements of City of a Thousand Dolls, it ended up being one of my favorite aspects of the novel. Though I wasn't entirely sure how every detail would fall into place, I had my suspicions regarding Nisha's love life and would have been miffed to find my guesses were wrong, but, thankfully, Forster was headed the direction I'd hoped. And, she managed to successfully resolve questions in a rather small number of pages (as these questions are answered near the very end of the book) - no small feat! I'm rather anxious to get my hands on book two and see more of Nisha and her boy!
City of a Thousand Dolls is a must read for fantasy fans. The world building is wonderful and doesn't bog down the story's pace, the main character is fantastic, the mystery compelling, and the romance is absolutely lovely. I highly recommend Forster's debut!
HarperTeen, February 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780062121301, 359 pgs.