A best seller in France, Dabos’s debut novel evokes both the whimsy and the deep-seated sense of justice of the Harry Potter series. The unassuming Ophelia simply wants to live her life undisturbed on her celestial island, an “ark” named Anima, where she works as an archivist in a museum and employs her singular talent, reading the histories of objects — and sometimes their owners — with her hands.
Without much explanation, the matriarchal leaders of her society promise her in marriage to a man from another ark, the Pole, which is as cold and foreboding as it sounds. So is her betrothed, a guy with the unpromising name of Thorn. With her Aunt Rosaline as chaperone, Ophelia must leave the only home she’s known and take up residence with Thorn’s family — a scheming, largely unfriendly lot — in the Pole’s capital, Citaceleste. There, nothing is as it seems, and a whirlwind of drama, intrigue and cruelty both casual and irreparable emerges.
But Ophelia is stronger than she looks. Along with her ability as a reader, she can travel through mirrors — a supercool trick, not to mention a metaphor about knowing yourself. She’s got a firm grasp on her morals, and a devoted scarf that acts, marvelously, like a pet snake. She’s the tiny-voiced powerhouse you can’t take your eyes off, the any-of-us among more powerful sorts who wish to use her for their gain. By the end of the novel, the first of a quartet, there are still more questions than answers, but you’re happily along for the ride.