Dark Metropolis

Rarely do I find myself so excited about a new YA novel nowadays.  Call me jaded, call me nasty, call me whatever--just do be creative, please.  I feel like 90% of the ARCs I receive or new YA books that I check out have fallen into a new-old familiar formula: girl thinks she is not special, but is in fact a) gorgeous, b) thin, and c) clueless.  She must make up her mind between loving the sweet dude who's loved her forever and the Mr. Tall, Dark, and Dangerous.  Generally there is some sort of plot-like backdrop to this drama.  We can use fairy tales, high fantasy, vampires, zombies, or the goût du jour, dystopian.  But really, it feels like the story never changes.

Which is why I am so, so happy to have read Dark Metropolis by Jaclyn Dolamore.  It is smart, atmospheric, and engrossing.  The characters have meaningful relationships and there isn't an excessive infodump anywhere in the book.  Oh, and it references one of my all-time favorite films, Fritz Lang's Metropolis.  I shocked myself by saying, "OH MY GOSH I HOPE THERE'S A SEQUEL."

Hello.  This book is alternate history set in post WWI Berlin and there are zombies.  What's not to love?

Thea's a waitress at the Telephone Club.  Sure, she serves drinks and food, but her job entails flirting with the customers and cozying up to the rich and tony--but never getting truly involved with them.  A girl's gotta work, especially with memories of rationing and bread lines still fresh in her mind and a mother who is Bound-Sick.

What's Bound-Sickness, you ask?  Well, in this version of Germany, magic is real.  Mostly just tricks and small things, mind, but in the country, couples had the option to be magically Bound together at their marriage.  This means that each would always know where the other was.  Unfortunately, the Great War rolled in, tore the men away from their wives, and most of the men didn't come back.  Without knowing what really happened to their husbands, the women slowly started to go mad.  Because the new government doesn't approve of these "provincial" customs, the Bound-Sick are placed in sanitariums.

As we all know, sanitariums in literature are not, generally, positive experiences.

Thea, therefore, works hard to keep her mother quiet and safely in their apartment, away from questioning ears or spying eyes.  She's friends with another waitress at the club, Nan, but they've never even gone out for coffee together because Thea's always rushing home to make sure her mother is safe.

One night, Thea's working on the balcony level, and she serves a rather interesting pair of men.  One is an older man, perhaps a bureaucrat, just someone looking for a bit of fun.  The other is a young man--very young--with pure silver hair.  No "Just for Men."  As Thea flirts and does her little routine, she accidentally brushes the boy's hand and suddenly has a vision of her father--a man she's believed dead for years.  The boy, Freddy, seems to notice what happened, and keeps his hands under the table the rest of the evening.  Thea's determined to know more.

Freddy (rather obviously) isn't what he seems--but I didn't guess correctly as to what he really was.  He can bring people back to life.  His uncles have him resurrecting people every night, but they tell him that all of the dead people are suicides.  Freddy believes them (a bit irrationally, but then he is dependent on them from pretty much everything, so it would not be in his best interests to question them) and feels that he is doing good (if secret) work for the society.  Unfortunately, helping these people leaves Freddy exhausted and perpetually hungry, and his hair has already silvered.

When he awakens a young waitress (the abovementioned Nan), he's surprised at her alertness.  She's so alert that she tries to kill him!  Surprise!  Freddy's unnerved. 

Dolamore starts rotating the POVs of the chapters between Thea, Freddy, and Nan, and I admit that Nan quickly became my favorite.  After being awakened, she's sent to an underground factory where she must pull levers all day or be punished.  She and the others must also drink a serum to keep them functioning. 

See, it turns out that Freddy's gift isn't what he thinks it is.  He thinks it's a one-shot-and-done deal.  No dice.  His gift was meant to be used to give loved ones a chance to say goodbye to someone who has died.  Then, the cord would be cut and the person would remain dead.  Freddy's charming uncles have figured out a way to prolong the simulacra of life--the serum--but when denied the serum, the raised become ... yes ... ZOMBIES! 

Nan decides she doesn't want to take the serum, and devises a way to dispose of her dose, but strangely, nothing happens to her.  She doesn't start zombifying.  We find that Nan is not what we think she is either--and she finds her true purpose.  Together with Sigi, another worker in the world below, she must find her way to the surface and free the workers.  From above, Freddy and Thea end up attempting the same thing.

I do think that some people won't like this.  It's best if you've seen Metropolis, even better if you love Metropolis.  Do me a favor.  Before this book comes out, check out Netflix or your local library and watch the movie.  It is a beautiful film, but it's also quite haunting, knowing that about a decade later, undesirables would be oppressed and imprisoned, performing menial tasks under the whip of a cruel master. 

The names are also really important here.  Freddy is reminiscent of Freder, the main male character in the film, who discovers the underground city of worker-slaves and falls in love with the beautiful Maria.  I think you could argue that the role of Maria is split between Thea and Nan: Thea is Warrior-Maria and Nan is the Savior-Maria.  Cripes, this is sounding like something out of film studies.  Anyway, Thea made me think of Theda Bara, silent film actress, ultimate vamp, and femme fatale incarnate.  In fact, that's how I pictured Thea in my mind!  Sigi is short for Sigismunda, and I knew that Sigismund sounded familiar--he's in Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen, and Sigi is a bit of a tragic hero(ine). 

All hyperanalysis aside, I really liked the relationships in this book.  They didn't feel forced, and they had a healthy dose of mistrust in them when most YA relationships are INSTALOVE.  Good girl, Thea, for not trusting Freddy.  But kudos to Freddy for telling Thea the truth about what he does and then working with her to rectify the wrong he has unknowingly done.  Nan and Sigi's relationship is also very interesting, particularly from Nan's perspective.  Sigi humanizes Nan, which, in the context of what we discover, is a bit ironic, and therefore the perfect way of developing Nan as a character.

I found out that there is another book coming in this series and I was elated!

Edited to add that I received a copy of this title from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Comments

  1. <3 I don't usually stalk my reviews, but I was already following you on Twitter, so it's okay, right? I just want to say how I love that you tried to analyze the names--I hoped some readers would love Metropolis and enjoy speculating on the parallels. There are a lot of various nods to Weimar Berlin as well, like The Telephone Club is based on The Resi, and the mention of the club with the talking parrot at every table was real as well! Arabella was drawn from some eccentric women of 1920s Paris. At one point, after knocking back so many books about art and culture in Weimar Berlin, I even had Thea and Freddy attending a Dada theatrical performance, but my editor (wisely, I'll admit) was not feeling that.

    Thea is named after Thea von Harbou, the writer of the Metropolis script, though I also went with it precisely because of the Theda Bara connection. It just has such a great 20s ring!

    The sequel was not something I originally planned, Metropolis the movie not having a sequel and all, but it has some more blatant nods to Die Niebelungen. (Though on the historical front it's more like the Russian Revolution. At this point I'm not sure if it's going to be awesome of just a huge mess, but it's DUE, so...full steam ahead!)

    Thanks for giving me an excuse to geek out about this for a minute... So glad I wrote the right book for somebody!!

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  2. Oh yes, do indeed stalk my reviews! I wanted to go into Weimar Berlin too but I was a) lazy and b) having a tendonitis flare-up (ouch). Perils of being a librarian.

    Gah, I knew there was a Thea involved in Metropolis too! It's been one of those weeks.

    This is indeed MY book. I must do one of my favorite librarian references: Ranganathan's Laws: Every book its reader; every reader its book. I've found my match.

    I am fully convinced the sequel will be awesome.

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    1. Well, this was already a pretty long review so I don't blame you! Well, it makes me happy. My books have not been for everyone, I think because I get rather caught up in this historical geekery. It's always nice to find the people who enjoy it with me. =)

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