She remembered the world but not her place within it, which made it all seem hollow.
—Dark Metropolis, Jaclyn Dolamore
That’s the most evocative line about amnesia that I can remember reading, well, EVER, and I have read a LOT of books that deal with amnesia in some way. However! Jaclyn Dolamore’s Dark Metropolis doesn’t deal with simple, bonk-you-over-the-head amnesia. No, in her story, the amnesia is widespread, unnatural and has a very dark purpose….
Sixteen-year-old Thea Holder had to quit school when her mother started losing her mind. Now she’s barely making ends meet—let alone getting any rest—spending her nights working at the swanky Telephone Club and her days caring for her mother. But then three things happen in rapid succession: She meets a handsome young customer at the club who takes an immediate shine to her, the authorities discover her mother’s madness and cart her away, and her best (only) friend Nan disappears. Her investigation uncovers the ugly truth of how her city is run, and in so doing, ultimately creates an opportunity to end years of secret, horrific oppression.
Dark Metropolis is set in an extremely class-stratified post-war European city, where magic is outlawed, rations and starvation are a recent memory, and there doesn’t appear to be a middle class. You either swan about attending shows at glamorous places like the Telephone Club, or you live without electricity in a small, dark, cold apartment. It’s a cool setting, and the secret at the heart of the story is grisly and wonderfully horrifying, largely in part to Dolamore’s spin on zombies: They’re self-aware.
The characters, meanwhile, are stock: Thea is the sensitive hard-working girl; Nan is the stubborn and semi-brash hard-working girl; Freddy is the good-hearted but sheltered rich boy. While the plotting allows each of them some seriously life-altering experiences over the course of the book, readers looking for rich character development should probably look elsewhere. Additionally, the characters’ actions and reactions often serve purely to further the plot, new magical abilities appear seemingly out of thin air, and at least three characters make dramatic, hard-to-believe about-faces of ethics and personal philosophy. Members of the resistance do a lot of talking about getting their loved ones back, but they never really get BEYOND that to the root of the issue: the classist culture that treats the poor as nothing but chattel.
If you’re not in a questioning frame of mind and would like an adventure with atmosphere, some chills, and a bit of romance, give it a try! If you’re feeling like something with stronger character development, give it a miss for now, and pick up Jenny Davidson’s excellent The Explosionist instead: While it’s different in tone—it’s a much quieter book—like Dark Metropolis, it’s about a European girl who stumbles upon a sinister, world-altering plot, but it’s meatier in every department.
If you aren’t feeling EITHER, give Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—the original inspiration for Dark Metropolis—a watch. And if even THAT seems too much, you could always just watch the video for Madonna’s "Express Yourself": That one is Metropolis, too.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or running the show at her local library, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while rewatching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.