Forster, M. (2013). City of a Thousand Dolls. New York: HarperTeen. (978-0-06-212130-1).
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls as a young child. The City of a Thousand Dolls is a place where orphan and unwanted girls are placed as infants or young children. There, they are trained in one of the eight houses to be musicians, healers, courtesans, and wives of nobility. Nisha arrived at the City too old to be placed in any of the Houses and so her place is somewhat tenuous as she belongs to none of the Houses but has trained in most of them. Over time, she found a place for herself as a servant and assistant to the Matron of the City.
She is now old enough to take part in the Redeeming. During the Redeeming, a person can claim a girl as an apprentice or a wife by paying a specified price, which is intended to compensate the City for her training. Nisha knows her chances of being chosen are slim but when she catches the eye of a young noble, she begins to dream that he will speak for her and she will be able to leave the City of Dolls for a new life. Nisha’s dreams are further imperiled when she catches the eye of another, who is willing to purchase her as a slave prior to the Redeeming; something that could happen because of her murky past and lack of connections.
When a series of murders threaten the security of the City, Nisha bargains to try to solve the mysterious deaths in exchange for her own freedom.
Forster allows Nisha to tell her own story choosing to use first person narrative. This convention is common in both mystery fiction and in young adult literature. By using this convention, the author allows the reader immediate access into the thoughts and feelings of her protagonist; a successful technique when writing for a teen audience. Using first person narrative is also traditional in mysteries allowing the reader to uncover clues at the same time as the narrator.
The plot of the story follows many of the conventions found in fantasy writing; a mysterious heritage, unknown protector, and magical creatures. There is little new in this. Forster’s novel is successful, to a large measure, because of her well-thought out setting. By setting her story into a South-Asian inspired context, she is able to bring the real issue of a controlled family size policy found in China with a culture of undervaluing girls to her fantasy. These concepts provide a very modern context for the fictional City of a Thousand Dolls. To this, she has added the details to provide further foundation to her story; the girls being trained for specific tasks by the different houses, which provides some excellent secondary characters for Nisha to interact with.
Nisha must solve the murders occurring in the City of a Thousand Dolls to save her own life and the life of her friends. While trying to uncover the mystery, Nisha soon learns that there is more to her own story than what she was led to believe when she was abandoned at the gates of the City years below. Do the nomadic Kildi play a role in the murders? And what do the tribe of cats who call the City home know of the present mystery and her own murky past?
Information about the author:
City of a Thousand Dolls is the debut novel by Miriam Forster. In her blog, Dancing with Dragons is hard on Your Shoes, she describes herself as a “recovering barista” and “a bit of a hermit.” She is currently working on a companion book.
- Social justice issues
- World History – China: one child policy, India: caste system
- Strong female characters
- Companion to Little Princes
- Trailer (from HarperCollins):
Reading level/interest: 13 and up
Why did you include this book in the titles chosen?:
- City of a Thousand Dolls was recommended by an avid teen reader who appreciated the originality of the setting and characters that wraps a tradition fantasy theme of a young protagonist finding out she is special and in the process becomes a hero. I included it because of the mystery elements.