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.
I’m highly selective when it comes to high fantasy. I’ve read plenty in my lifetime but have only ever enjoyed a few. The title was interesting, if not a little perplexing, but the cover was nothing short of intriguing and so, I decided to see if it would change the way I feel about the genre. When I started City of a Thousand Dolls, I’d been given the impression that it would contain mostly action and romance but was graced with no such luck.
Looking through other reviews of City of a Thousand Dolls, I found that, like myself, the majority of people who’ve read it have had an issue with its pacing. Unlike the summary implies, action and romance? It’s all spread out so accordingly that it takes finishing the entire book to realize it was really there, at all. The only element that was up to par had to be the mystery. CoaTD is packed with Sherlock Holmes-like mystery, though is still awfully predictable at times. The entire novel centers on our main protagonist trying to find the killer(s) in the City so that she won’t be sold to a man she’s never met before for purposes unclear to her and the readers. In the midst of it all, she manages to get who might be her only friend arrested and team up with a tribe of cats that she somehow has ways of communicating with. I know it’s high fantasy, but I’m still having a pretty rough time wrapping my head around all that. Talking cats will always be a bit too far-fetched for me.
Our trusty Sherlock makes her way around the City at inappropriate hours with her very own Watson—Jerrit the cat— who she later betrays and is then left completely friendless, cats and all, only to solve the mystery of the killings all on her own. This, of course, is the time she chooses to run off into the deep dark forest unaccompanied and lands up in a nomad camp upon waking up from having a boulder pushed on her the previous night. In the City, teachers have sworn on the danger of Kildi nomads, and surprise surprise, Nisha just happens to be the daughter of the guy who was in charge before he got killed. This ended up being a secret that was supposed to be vital in the book, but I just didn’t see how it went any farther than a lost identity uncovered. Her actual status as a Kildi never did anything to harm her or benefit her, so i don’t even know why it was included or why it was so hyped up in the first place.
Speaking of random, unimportant facts, City of a Thousand Dolls is filled with an almost confusing set of social orders; princes, Matron’s, teachers, novices, overseers, assistants, apprentices, Kildi’s, and other rankings I skipped over because I was so lost between all of the different titles each person in the book had. Foster didn’t give enough time for the reader to grasp the different positions held by each character and it made it hard to keep up between the various personalities we were introduced to in such a short time period.
Besides an abundance of circling social order, City of a Thousand Doll‘s mystery was at often times so predictable that I couldn’t enjoy it. Right off the bat the reader could have taken a guess at who the killer in the City is and probably would have guessed right. The only reason I’d call it a mystery at all is because the entire course of the novel is focused on finding the killer and well, I guess that’s mysterious material, bad or not.
I spent most of the book rushing through the pages, itching to finish only because I wanted the book to end so badly, and it wasn’t until the last fifty pages that I started to actually like it. I found my opinion on the book and it’s characters starting to shift and if there’s anything to say about City of a Thousand Dolls it’s that its conclusion is nothing short of exciting when compared to the rest of it’s content.
If you’re someone who’s a fan of Chinese folklore, City of a Thousand Dolls is something you’ll probably enjoy, but I can’t say the same for fans of high fantasy in general. As someone who strictly loves the Graceling series and Grave Mercy in the high fantasy category, I’d say it was a bit comparable but nothing close to either of these incredible books series.
City of a Thousand Dolls is the first in a series and only because I liked the last fifty pages so much, I’d consider reading the sequel.