Nimira is a trouser girl. She left her home years ago seeking fame and maybe even fortune in Lorinar.
Instead Nim is treated like foreign trash and reduced to playing in seedy music halls lacking the respect and admiration reserved for artists back home in Tiansher.
That is until a sorcerer comes to Nim with an unusual proposal.
Hollin Parry is in possession of an automaton of singular craftsmanship. It plays the piano and some people say it might be haunted, so real does it look. Mr. Parry doesn’t believe any of that, but he would like a singer to accompany the automaton’s playing. In fact, he wants Nimira to accompany it.
If Nimira can ignore the rumors about the automaton and the sorcerer’s past, Mr. Parry can offer her respectable work at the fine estate of Vestenveld, a steady income, and maybe even something more if Nim is willing.
But life at Vestenveld is not as it appears. A madwoman roams the halls and rooms are filled with remnants of a dark past. Then there’s the automaton.
He doesn’t frighten Nimira, far from it. But what if his lifelike movements aren’t just clockwork actions? What if the automaton really is haunted? Or worse? As Nim learns more about her new home and the automaton she will have to make dangerous choices to protect herself and save the one she loves in Magic Under Glass (2010) by Jaclyn Dolamore.
At 225 pages (hardcover) Magic Under Glass is a short book–especially for a fantasy (a genre where many books top out at more than 400 pages). Dolamore’s pacing is perfect to build tension and establish the complicated world of Lorinar, especially as seen through the eyes of a foreigner like Nim, right until the end of the story.
Like the Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle books, this one blends a lot of different elements into what is essentially a fantasy. Magic Under Glass offers commentary on racism, discrimination, class systems, ethics and more all while guiding Nimira through a story narrated, rather delightfully, in Nim’s witty voice. The novel also blends elements of gothic novels with traditional fantasy tropes (and politics) to create suspense and romance throughout.
The ending comes very quickly as the story builds to a high action scene that culminates rather abruptly. Even with the quick ending Magic Under Glass is really a perfect story. And, honestly, a perfect ending. The story’s closure is just open-ended enough for readers to imagine their own perfect outcome. A sequel may be in the works–Dolamore has certainly created a large enough world to accommodate many more stories–but this is one book that is wrapped up very nicely on its own without tying things up too tightly.
Possible Pairings: A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, Selling Hope by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb, Dust Girl by Sarah Zettel
Exclusive Bonus Content: Readers who followed the Liar cover controversy back in 2009 might remember that the same publisher was once again called for putting a white girl on the cover of Magic Under Glass in 2010. (More basic information about book cover design can be found in this post.) Nimira is a character of color. She has brown skin and her second class status among the paler people of Lorinar is a HUGE part of the story.
The original cover for the book (the top image in this review because it’s the cover I read the book with) has a girl with pale skin. Now, to be fair, I think this infraction is easier to swallow than Liar because the girl’s face is obscured and the lighting is dim so you can’t really say for sure what the girl actually looks like. On the other hand, that’s splitting hairs and there should be more minority characters shown prominently on book covers. This cover, while visually wonderful (props to the photographer Monica Stevenson, designer Danielle Delaney and Kristin Farrell who supplied the beautiful jewelery shown), is also really not indicative of the plot since it focuses on one tiny scene that relates very tangentially to the actual plot of the story. Interestingly this cover also might be showing Nim in her “trouser girl” costume which is a loaded thing in itself (and explained in the book so I won’t get into it here).
If response to the controversy raised by the cover/plot disconnect later editions of the book were released with a new cover featuring a model who much more obviously fits Nimira’s description. This cover also is more closely related to the plot of the story. See that key she’s holding? Really important part of the story. Seriously.
Personally, I like both covers. They capture different parts of the story very well. The contrast (and controversy) also provides an interesting counterpoint to the story and even comments further on some of the issues raised in the novel by Dolamore herself.