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Dark Shadows in a Glittering Metropolis: Magic and Religion in Jaclyn Dolamore’s Dark Metropolis Series (a guest post for #FSYALit)

faith and SpiritualityToday I am very excited to host a guest post as part of the #FSYALit Discussion on the Dark Metropolis series by Jaclyn Dolamore. Dark Metropolis is a book that I became familiar with as a Cybils judge and it is truly a fascinating book. Set in a dark world of fantasy, it adds a very interesting twist to the zombie tale while taking a very hard look at the issue of economic inequality. I could talk about this book forever, but instead let’s listen to what L. N. Holmes has to say.

I’ve always been a fan of magic. As a Christian, that might be a controversial statement. The Bible has many verses rebuking magic and its practitioners. However, the fictional magic of fantasy novels is what I truly like, because it is an excellent literary device for examining the human condition.

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Take, for example, the Harry Potter series. Some Christians despised it, but other Christians defended it as a “Book of Virtues with a preadolescent funny bone” and “a meaningful connection to the most significant principles of Christianity.” In the books, J. K. Rowling used magic as an avenue to discuss abuses of power and the consequences of good and evil choices.

Jaclyn Dolamore also uses magic to discuss big ideas with her readers in her young adult series, Dark Metropolis. The heroine Thea, a waitress at a cabaret club in an alternate 1930s Germany, becomes unintentionally involved in a government conspiracy when her best friend, Nan, disappears. Freddy, a “reviver” that brings people back to life with his magical power, is connected to this conspiracy. When he starts frequenting the club where Thea works, the two form an unlikely duo against a city where people are gradually disappearing.

Although not as famous or as polished as the Harry Potter series, Dolamore’s fantasy strongly relies on magic as a plot device. Neither inherently good nor evil, enchantments oftentimes serve the whims of the caster. There are people who choose to abuse it—the government in the first book and Ingrid and King Otto in Glittering Shadows (book two)—and others who simply use it for practical purposes. Many non-magic users are directly affected by these actions.

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In the books, Christianity and magic are not at odds. On the contrary, in Dark Metropolis, Thea notes that Father Gruneman of her church “reminded her of a fairy-tale creature himself, a wizard who had crawled out of a magic cave” (Dolamore 21) after he hands her a book of fairy tales. He later refers to Freddy’s magic as “a gift” (Dolamore 144). Father Gruneman embracing magic allows for him to deal with its existence objectively and take necessary action to help Thea and Freddy when they need it.

Dolamore’s books focus more on Norse mythology than Christianity, however. This is subtly mentioned in Dark Metropolis and further explored in Glittering Shadows. Without giving too much away, the origin story of magic in book two is a direct nod to a specific Norse legend. The characters mirror the plot as they focus more on this mythology than religion.

Ironically, it is an important character of book two that is connected to the Norse mythology that tries to explain the purpose of Christianity. Ingrid argues with Nan in book two that “even as you are looking for humanity in yourself, humans are looking to transcend those feelings inside of themselves. That’s why they go to church” (Dolamore, 194). While Ingrid’s motivations are not entirely pure during this argument, her ideas about religion may ring true for some Christians.

Admittedly, the books were not always enjoyable reads. Oftentimes the plot dragged. Thea was irritatingly indecisive at times. There were many instances where the plot and character development could have been stronger. While the first book focused mostly on Thea and Freddy, Nan’s story was far more interesting. Finally, there were too many instances where the characters were too passive in their actions.

That being said, Dolamore did well with portraying old stories in new ways. Her exploration into folklore, mythology, and religion—and how they intertwine—may be stimulating enough to readers to keep their interest. Fans of Cassandra Clare may also appreciate Dolamore’s style.

Dolamore’s descriptions of magic were vastly different from Rowling’s, and yet I found it to be an interesting commentary. The serious tone in the Dark Metropolis series encouraged philosophical thought about these subjects without dictating answers for the readers. It created a world where magic and religion could co-exist.

About DARK METROPOLIS:

darkmetropolisCabaret meets Cassandra Clare-a haunting magical thriller set in a riveting 1930s-esque world.

Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder’s mother is cursed with a spell that’s driving her mad, and whenever they touch, Thea is chilled by the magic, too. With no one else to contribute, Thea must make a living for both of them in a sinister city, where danger lurks and greed rules.
Thea spends her nights waitressing at the decadent Telephone Club attending to the glitzy clientele. But when her best friend, Nan, vanishes, Thea is compelled to find her. She meets Freddy, a young, magnetic patron at the club, and he agrees to help her uncover the city’s secrets-even while he hides secrets of his own.

Together, they find a whole new side of the city. Unrest is brewing behind closed doors as whispers of a gruesome magic spread. And if they’re not careful, the heartless masterminds behind the growing disappearances will be after them, too.

Perfect for fans of Cassandra Clare, this is a chilling thriller with a touch of magic where the dead don’t always seem to stay that way. (June 2014 from Disney Hyperion)

About GLITTERING SHADOWS:

glitteringshadowsThe revolution is here.

Bodies line the streets of Urobrun; a great pyre burns in Republic Square. The rebels grow anxious behind closed doors while Marlis watches as the politicians search for answers—and excuses—inside the Chancellery.

Thea, Freddy, Nan, and Sigi are caught in the crossfire, taking refuge with a vibrant, young revolutionary and a mysterious healer from Irminau. As the battle lines are drawn, a greater threat casts a dark shadow over the land. Magic might be lost—forever.

This action-packed sequel to Dark Metropolis weaves political intrigue, haunting magic, and heartbreaking romance into an unforgettable narrative. Dolamore’s lyrical writing and masterfully crafted plot deliver a powerful conclusion. (June 2015 from Disney Hyperion)

You can find all the #FSYALit posts here.

Meet Our Guest Blogger

lnholmesLeeAnn Adams (or L. N. Holmes, if referring to her by her pen name) is a writer and editor for Germ Magazine. She is the winner of the 2012 Katherine B. Rondthaler Award for Poetry, the 2013 President’s Prize for Creative Writing, and has won first place for her nonfiction in a literary magazine from the North Carolina Media Association Statewide Media Awards. Her writing is featured in Garbanzo Literary Journal, Salt Magazine, Incunabula, the Wilmington News Journal, and is forthcoming in F(r)iction. She would love for you to visit her at her WordPress, Facebook, and Twitter pages.

Cybils Reviews: Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer and Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

I am knee deep in Cybils reading, and this weekend I read both Belzhar and Dark Metrpolis.

Belzar by Meg Wolitzer

Jam Gallahue finds herself at a special school for “emotionally fragile” teens. Last year, her beloved Reeve Maxfield died and she is having a hard time dealing with this loss. Her roommate is a young lady with food issues who is jealous when Jam is chosen to participate in a special topics English class. There are only 5 students and this year they are going to be exclusively studying the works of Sylvia Plath.

Each student receives a journal to write in and when they do, they find themselves in a place they call Belzhar where for a few brief moments they are at peace. But what happens when they get to the end of their journals?

We eventually learn the background stories of each of the five students as they build a relationship and learn to trust each other in this nontraditional class.

Although I had a hard time starting this book, I ended up really liking it in the end. Each of the 5 students deals with some form of variation on the concept of loss and grief. With this unique concept, Wolitzer highlights that even though people can be facing very different situations, they are entitled to the emotional weight of what they bear and the opportunity to go through their own healing process in their own way. In this world where we are constantly being told that so and so has it so much worse than us so you should just be happy and grateful, it’s a nice reminder that each person has their own life story and that story has meaning and power to them.

Jam meets a boy named Griffin in this group and, to me, he was the most compelling of the characters. I was very drawn into his story. Overall, the writing was strong, the characters were very real and relatable, and the story was engaging.

Dark Metropolis by Jacyln Dolamore

Set in a dark, foreboding 1920/1930s-esque post war world, Dolamore introduces a world where magic is forbidden. After a brutal war plagued by food rationing and a near collapse of the city’s infrastructure, a group of teens come to learn just what it is that keeps their city running and why people keep seeming to disappear.

Thea’s mother was bound to her father in a binding spell, a magic that would unite them for life. So when Thea’s mother is told that her husband has passed away, she insists it can be true because she can still feel herself bound to him. Slowly, she becomes increasingly boundsick, which leaves Thea in a desperate attempt to discover the truth and help save her mother who appears to be slowly going insane.

Thea works at a place called the Telephone Club, and one day her best friend simply fails to show up. Nan wakes up in a bizarre factory with no memories and her task each day is to pull lever after lever. Where she is, and the how and why of it, are a truly fascinating tale.

Thea enlists the help of a silver haired boy named Freddy to help find out what happened to Nan. It turns out he has recently seen Nan and he is a very big player in everything that is happening.

Dark Metropolis is a wildly inventive story that weaves magic into a city in very interesting ways while addressing issues like class warfare and politics. Like Reboot by Amy Tintera, there is an interesting take on a very familiar monster story here – though I can’t tell you what because it would ruin all of your fun.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of this story is the character of Father Gruneman. He is involved in the revolution movement, a fact that at first surprises Thea. When Thea approaches the Father about his involvement, he replies to her that he can’t just stand at the pulpit and preach about faith and making the world a better place, but that he must go out and actively live his faith in a way that helps to bring about the good that he proclaims. So nestled in the middle of this very dark fantasy story is one of the strongest affirmations of faith I have found recently in YA literature.

Overall, I really loved how dark and macabre this story was. I loved Nan and her parts of the story. I thought some of the dialogue between Thea and Freddy was stilted and didn’t feel very authentic and I felt the ending was a little rushed, but other parts of the story were very atmospheric and engaging. For me, this could be a complete story, but it’s listed as being book #1 so it seems that there is more to come.

I definitely recommend both of these books.