In a world in which women are of little value, Grey tries to remain beneath the notice of the ruling Chemists. To draw attention to herself risks her very life and the lives of her family and her best friend Whit. When Chemists punish Whit for protecting Grey, she abandons hope of escaping notice and vows to help others like Whit, no matter the cost to herself. When the Chemists realize what she’s done, her family protects her by spiriting her away to a world within her grandfather’s curio cabinet. There, among a strange world of clockwork people, Grey must find a hidden ally and a key that may bring an end to the Chemists’ tyranny.
Though I’ve been long fascinated with steampunk literature, I hadn’t really read much of it. I enjoyed this story very much. I loved the way Denmark creates not only the dystopian world in which Grey lives but also another hidden world within the curio cabinet. I hadn’t realized when I started reading that a great majority of the story would take place within the cabinet. At first I wasn’t sure if I’d like that idea, but actually, though I think the dystopian world is complex and interesting in its own right, I came to prefer the part of the story that happens within the curio.
Blaise is absolutely my favorite character. I liked that he was a bit removed from both worlds. In terms of the way the story unfolds, I liked that he held his own and played his own part in fighting evil and rescuing Grey, but she had her own heroic role to play.
Also, I have to say that the villain in the curio was super creepy. Like, not in a ‘beware!’ kind of way, but in the sense that I definitely felt the danger Grey was in when she was in his custody.
Over all, I loved the pacing of the story and its great characters. Because of the pervasiveness of the attraction the characters feel for one another and the intense situation described below, this may not be a great book for younger or more sensitive readers. See the content notes for more information.
From almost the very beginning of the story, Grey has some intense feelings of attraction toward her friend Whit and another man she meets. There are a few kisses exchanged, but nothing beyond that, though there are a lot of moments when Grey or other characters dwell on the romantic pull toward one another.
There’s a scene which might be a trigger for abuse or rape survivors. See below for details.
Spoiler — One of the porcies takes a fascination to Grey, and though the porcies aren’t capable of procreation, he intends to “explore” Grey, by force if necessary. He ties her down and tries to take advantage of her, but doesn’t get very far. It’s definitely intense, but she’s able to escape.
Within the curio cabinet, the clockwork people believe they were created by a Designer. This idea seems consistent with metaphors for our relationship with a Creator, but it’s not explored.
Within Grey’s village, powerful Chemists who have magical abilities rule the people.
Chemists mete out harsh punishments for rule violations. Whit bears injuries resulting from being whipped. In the curio, a fall or other mishap seriously damages the fragile porcies (living people made of porcelain with steam-powered inner workings.) A girl loses her hand in a battle. At one point, Grey finds a mass grave of tocks (living people made with clockwork pieces.)
Whit comes across a potion dealer who adds an addictive element to the potions. It seems to affect him the way illicit drugs would (he’s a bit out of things for a while after taking it), and he craves more of the stuff.
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