Hardcover, 288 pages
Published: August 4th 2015 by Margaret K. McElderry Books
I talked about the reasons you should read Of Metals and Wishes not too long ago. I hope you were convinced and have since read it and loved it. If you haven’t, there’s still time. Go on. I’ll wait.
Done? Okay. Good. Because now I have (yes, it is an obligation because I don’t see how I cannot) to talk to you about the followup to (and I’m thinking the ending of) this duology. In Of Dreams and Rust Wen finds out the nefarious plots her government has cooked up in order to subdue the rebellious Noor people. The government means to quell the rebels once and for all by using war machines that have come straight out of the Ironman movies. Wen, though she’s not living in an ideal world, is comfortable where she is. She is warm, well-fed, has the companionship of her father and Bo, the Ghost. Wen has an ambiguous relationship with Bo; she senses he wants more from her than she can give him but she cannot make herself turn away from him. She gives him friendship and he, starved as he is for affection, takes it and bides his time because Melik has been gone for more than a year at this point and there is little probability that he will return to rekindle the relationship between himself and Wen.
But then Wen finds out about the war machines and she realizes that the Noor population will be decimated by them. Her conscience will not allow her a choice so she makes her way from the place she resides to the province in which trouble is brewing. Circumstances reunite her with Melik who has changed from the boy she knew to a solider she is not certain she even recognizes. The unfolding narrative deals with their story in the context of a world on the cusp of disaster and annihilation. I really am not joking about the annihilation part.
I was most satisfied with this sequel. The writing is straight up gorgeous. The pacing is quick and on point as the narrative is full of tension. For all that the book is slim (only about 277 pages) the story is fully explored and elaborated upon to the limits of the world created. What I mean by that is there are no stones left unturned if you will pardon the oft-used adage.
I loved Wen; she is an ordinary girl who shows extraordinary courage in extenuating situations. She may not be physically strong or intellectually brilliant but she has inordinate heart and an awareness of her self and her world that is remarkably fresh. I liked the fact that the romance is shown as important but accompanying the feels is the realization (somber though it is) of war and suffering. I particularly loved the Noor tradition of carpe diem because there is no guarantee that safer days lie in the future. Don’t hoard happiness; feel it, live it, express it. A grand way to live, I say.
The love triangle, such as it is, is masterfully managed. Wen is very clear about who she prefers but this doesn’t mean there aren’t softer moments between her and Bo (oops? But come on, you all knew). For instance, she says in response to Bo’s increasing desire to recreate himself as a machine:
“…Please hold on to the parts of you that I loved. Please do not kill them. You’ll want to. You’ll want to cut them away and burn them. But if you do, I’ll be gone forever. It is in those parts of you that I’ll live. And if you keep them safe, I’ll always be with you. I’ll never leave again. As long as you hold on to them. Please.”
So yes, the romance is well done. But I think what, ultimately, won me over was the portrayal of war, the savagery of it, the futility of it. Wen is put in a position where no matter who or which side she chooses people will suffer. The book manages to show without being preachy or didactic, how war perverts even the best intentions and how the people who die can be separated into individuals and not just a mass with a one face. Wen, who belongs to the privileged, sees how the enemy lives and is once again forced to reevaluate her preconceived notions.
“I knew Yilat was poor, but I had little idea what this kind of poverty really looked like. In the Ring, it is sagging skin and bent backs and a bowl outstretched for a coin. It is grasping and groping and hustling and stealing, a bun swiped and stuffed into a starving mouth before the vendor notices, a penny pinched from a pocket followed by a sprint into an alley. In Yilat poverty looks different. There is no movement to it at all. It is wary gazes and complete stillness. Gaunt and hollow.”
The book packs a punch and I enjoyed it a lot. It is a difficult book to classify. It is not quite dystopian and not quite fantasy. What it is, however, is very good. If I haven’t convinced you yet, I don’t know what else I can do. Because seriously, read these books.