Nim—Nimira—is a Trouser Girl, a dark-skinned singer and dancer from Tianshen—valued in Lorinar for little more than willingness to traipse around on stage in pants, traditional for women in her culture but exotic and erotic in a land of corsets and petticoats. During the day she scoffs at her fellow performers for their dreams of wealthy, handsome man whisking them from the grimy music halls and into high society, but when a well-to-do and attractive sorcerer offers her a high-paying job, she takes the chance. Even if the job involves singing with a piano-playing automaton and several singers have already quite, swearing that the clockwork man is haunted. Determined to stick it out, Nim doesn’t run when the automaton starts to moan; instead, she pays attention and they manage to communicate. He is, of course, a fairy who has been trapped in the automaton for thirty years (though, only really having consciousness when wound, for him it seems far less), and his very existence is threatened by a ranking member of the Sorcerer’s Council.
Magic Under Glass deals admirably with both racism and sexism; mostly this is apparent in characters’ reactions to Nim, but a potent mixture or racism and nationalism is also found in their views towards fairies and the nearby fairy country. Most impressively, this racially-tinged nationalism is seen even in characters who are not villains, while not being portrayed as acceptable; it condemns the anti-fairy sentiment while acknowledging that well-intentioned, kind-hearted people can say and believe things that make us cringe.
There are some interesting twists, especially in the limitations of magic, but there’s also a Jane Eyre parallel that falls rather flat. The portrayals of romance in the book are likewise mixed. The central romance, that between Nim and the man in the man in the automaton, is predictable and and its lack of development becomes problematic late in the story, when their circumstances shift and their emotions fail to respond. On the other hand, there are the visible remnants of a relationship that clearly was, at one point, deeply loving, but has realistically altered and shifted into something entirely different as the people and situations changed; an unrequited romantic interest—clear and hopeful, hesitant and uncreepy—further adds complexity and nuance.
The conclusion certainly paves the way for the forthcoming sequel, but it is a conclusion and not a cliffhanger or abrupt cut-off.
Magic Under Glass has strengths that far outweigh its weaknesses. Dolamore has pretty serious potential, and I’m rather intrigued by this sentence on her website: “My next book, Between The Sea And Sky, is about a mermaid and a winged dude. There is, of course, a love story and angst, and the vibe I was going for is Jane Austen meets Miyazaki.”
Jane Austen meets Miyazaki, from a writer who clearly has promise? I’m in.