Nimira is a dance-hall girl, from a country not unlike India. With her mother dead, her father banished from court because of his excessive gambling and frittering away of their family's money, Nimira fled her Uncle's farm to the land of Lorinar, where she came to be a trouser girl, a woman who sings the native songs of her country, Tiansher, which the Lorinians call "Tassim".
But Trouser girls were no longer the entertainment of Lords, but the masses, and now she sings in a music call for a show with a 2 penny admittance, along with other girls of her country drawn by the same dream. Lately, though, Minira has seen a young man dressed like a Lord who has been watching her especially through the performances. During the day, she pooh-poohs any idea of him whisking her away from the tawdry glamour of the music hall to set her up in luxury somewhere, while at night, she dreams of just that.
When he does approach her, instead, it is about a singing job, but even so, she is happy to leave the theatre to go see him. Packing up her stuff and wearing her best Lorinan dress, she unfortunately has a run-in with the owner of the theatre who doesn't wish to let her go,. He's drunk and belligerent and nearly tears the arm off her dress, but she manages to get away from him and go to the hotel where the Lord who wishes her singing talents is staying. There, she is nearly turned away by the over-zealous doorman, but her possible boss shows up before the doorman can call the policemen on her.
Hollin Parry is more than just a lord, he's also a magician. He's recently bought an automaton from an estate sale, one that plays the Piano- several tunes. He's not made by human work, but by fairy work, infinitely finer and more magical. He wants Nimira to sing with the automaton because she sings with such passion, and because she strikes him as a no-nonsense sort of girl. He's tried to use other singers, but they claimed the automaton is haunted- groaning, wailing and chattering when it plays, and they left in fear of it. Nimira knows she's not one to be frightened of a machine, so she tells him that it won't frighten her.
Hollim says he knew she was the right woman for the job and hires her on the spot, soon taking her to his country estate, Vestenveld. It was there Hollin lived with his wife, Annalie, until she died of a fever. He wanted to travel with her, all around the world to see the wonders of the world, but now that she is dead, he has no reason to go. He revives the idea of going with Nimira, but she has no idea if she should be flattered at the attention or slightly panicked at the idea of being a man's courtesan/mistress.
They arrive at the estate at night, and at the entrance to the house, there are two magnificent golden lions. Namira finds them fierce and lovely, until she is told that Hollin's father, also a magician, turned real lions into the golden statues she is admiring now. Nimira is quite taken aback and disgusted that these things were once alive, and thinks that Hollin's father must have been quite a cruel man to do something like that.
In the morning, she is taken to see the automaton, a life-sized and even human-looking man in velvet clothes beautifully embroidered that plays the piano while seeming to look from the audience to the keys he is playing. Once again, Namira is taken aback at how lifelike he seems, even though he is wound up with a key in his back, and you can see his mechanisms through the front of his jacket. The automaton plays a few songs that Namira knows and Hollin gives her music and words to the others so that she can practice. But when she is finally alone, she discovers that the tales about the automaton weren't wrong -it does moan and chatter.
Slowly, she comes to realize that something about it is very strange, and she asks it questions that it can answer in its own way. It proposes a more complete method by playing an alphabet song, but Nimira, who can read and write, needs paper and a writing implement to translate. When she goes to look for some, she stumbles into the study of Hollin's father- a terrible place with stuffed fairies under glass- fairies which she was sure were once alive. Later, Hollin confirms this, and that his father was a cruel man. Not only does he have stuffed fairies, but a stuffed and mounted unicorn as well.
Nimira warms to him a bit, as he seems a much nicer man than his father, who is thankfully now dead. One of his father's friends, a magician who is head of the council, will be visiting, named Smollings. Smollings is a disagreeable man, but he was a friend of Hollin's father, who asked Smollings to look after his son when he was gone..
Back with the Automaton, Nimira asks him questions, and writes out his answers from the keyboard. The automaton tells her not to trust Hollin, but begs her for help. He asks her to contact someone named Karstor, who, as it turns out, is another sorceror. The Automaton, who gives his name as Erris, was told by Garvin, the former Minister of Magic, who tragically died and was replaced by Smollings, to contact Karstor if anything happened to him. She asks Erris what he is, and he tells her he is a man.
Smollings comes to visit, and is casually dismissive of Nimira and her talent. He discusses with Hollin the possibility that Erris, the automaton, might be a missing Faerie Prince, disappeared during the last war and presumed to be dead. However, there was also a story going around that one of his family's enemies had him turned into an automaton. He was searched for after the war but never found, and the rest of his family was assassinated. Now, a distant cousin rules the throne, and his people might be at war with the humans again at any moment.
That night, Nimira hears woman scream, and thinking it is the maid who has befriended her, goes out, only to be confronted by a different woman entirely. She's been hand-tied, but her legs are free, and she begs Nimira to untie her. Before she can, Smollings appears, tells Nimira that the woman is a mentally ill witch, and drags her off again, telling Nimira to mind her own business. Soon, Hollin appears, and confirms the story, but looks twitchy and nervous as he does so, so Nimira doesn't believe him. The next day, her servant friend tells her that the woman is really Annalie, former mistress of the house- not really dead, but changed and imprisoned on the upper floors of the house.
Nimira goes in search of her, but is found out by the housekeeper, who throws her out of the upper part of the house. Nimira convinces the woman she was just bored and exploring, so she tells Nimira not to go up there again, under pain of an even worse punishment. But Nimira doesn't listen, and finds Annalie anyway, who tells her that when Hollin resorted to death magic to cure her of her fever, he succeeded, with a strange drawback- now she can hear the spirits of the dead. Smollings uses her to contact the dark spirits of the dead- which hurts her.
Nimira, having fallen in love with Erris, needs Annalie's help to contact the one person she feels can help her, The Queen of the Longest Night, also known as the Queen of the Dead. Nimira is prepared to do anything to save Erris, but the Queen is moved by her love for him, and tries to do what she can. But as Smollings conspires to have Erris destroyed along with the automaton, can Nimira save Erris and save Lorindar from Smollings, who would destroy the faeries to ensure the primacy of humans? Or will she choose to travel abroad with Hollin and leave Lorindar behind? Can she ever convince Hollin to grow a backbone to stand up to Smollings, whom he both hates and fears, but who has a hold over him because of what he did to save his wife?
I loved this book. The words drew me right in from the start, so much so that it only took me an hour and a half to read. I know other readers will probably have to read for longer than that. but it's not a very thick book, and it is extremely enjoyable.
Readers will definitely be able to fill in the blanks, that Lorindar is England/America (Because Hollin talks about his ancestors coming there from across the sea) and Nimira is from Tiansher or India (her native dress certainly sounds like a Sari). Some readers might be upset at not simply calling the countries "England" and "India", but the chosen fantasy names make it easier to accept the magical world we find ourselves in when inside the book.
I loved the romance between Erris and Nimira- this may be Jaclyn Dolamore's first book, but she definitely hits the right notes to make us believe in the romance and why Nimira would fall for the transformed/imprisoned Erris. The readers, too, will sympathize with him, and feel that Hollin is too much a coward to deserve Nimira- willing to leave his wife behind to escape the situation in Lorinar and never telling Nimira that he is still married. He quickly loses any sympathy one might have had, and only gets our pity, even after he does finally grow a backbone and stand up for his wife and what is right against the man who has such a hold over him.
My only complaint here is that the novel cuts off very abruptly at the end. There is definitely indications of a sequel, but the ending was abrupt and could have been led into a little better- it just abruptly stops, and it could have been handled better, but I will definitely be interested in reading the next book when it comes out. Highly recommended.