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.
Why I Chose It: This has been on my reading list for a really long time! I was initially intrigued by the idea of a city that trained girls to be healers, musicians and assassins.
I was really excited when I started this book because the setting appealed to me a lot. The City is broken into several different “Houses” that train girls in certain skills: House of Music; House of Dance; House of Healing; etc. While at first each of these Houses seemed one dimensional, the depth of each House was revealed throughout the story, and I loved that I could better understand the range of skills that the girls learned. I also appreciated that Nisha’s role as the Matron’s assistant allowed her access to all of these spaces and allowed me to gain an insider look of the City of Dolls, and really experience the beauty of this world.
The one thing I can really say about this book was that the setting was beautiful. Forster does an amazing job at really creating the feel of this world in the first few chapters by focusing on the small details upon which this setting is built. Not only are the girls living among lush gardens, ponds, and carved buildings, but the girls themselves are beautiful. The descriptions of the different dresses that the girls wore were incredible and I was in love with them. But on top of that I loved that the book conveyed the beauty of the arts and not just physical beauty. Arts like music, dance, and even working with herbs are widely celebrated throughout the book and I really appreciated the attention they were given.
Even though I fell in love with this world, City of a Thousand Dolls is not without its weaknesses. I wasn’t very fond of the overall writing style of the book. Now I fully admit that because I was listening to the audiobook, I may have missed subtleties in the writing and focused on nuances in the narrator’s interpretation rather than the words themselves. But I did feel that some of dialogue and exposition was a bit choppy and repetitive, and as far as emotional events and reactions, the story did a lot more telling rather than showing. There was also an extreme reliance on similes and metaphors. In general I thought the writing felt a little immature and I was left wanting a lot more.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I struggled with the plot structure of the novel. As a reader, I appreciate a book with interesting subplots that create depth and support the main plot. The trouble with City is that all the plot lines are given the same attention, and there is no main plot. I spent a large part of the book wondering what which plot I was supposed to be focusing on, and feeling a little lost in understanding where the book was going. The plot lines didn’t mesh together all that well either, and I felt like the book was fighting itself more than it was telling a cohesive story.
There are some really good aspects of City of a Thousand Dolls. I absolutely love the world created, and the beautiful descriptions given by Forster. Sadly, after such a wonderful introduction, the rest of the story fell a little flat for me. That being said, I do think this would be a good book for younger readers who would be attracted to the mystery of the Houses, the light fantasy and the love story.
Overall Rating: 3 / 5
Setting and Atmosphere: 5 / 5
Descriptions and Imagery: 4 / 5
Movement and Transitions: 1 / 5
Plot Development: 1 / 5