A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge (book review)

May 15, 2017 | By | Reply More

When a little girl is found in a cheese vat by the master cheesemaker, Grandible, it is his instinct to pull her out. What he sees in her face makes him recoil with shock and he determines to protect this child. He names her Neverfell, making her his apprentice. Grandible teaches her how to make the exotic cheeses of Caverna, the city deep below ground. Caverna supplies the outside world with peculiar and much sought after food, including a cheese that spits acid and a wine that makes you forget.

Caverna has been ruled over by the Head Steward for over five hundred years. He is now so old that only one side of his head rules at any one time leading to some very odd decisions and perils for his staff. Grandible the cheesemaker has left the court far behind or so he hopes but there is no real escape from the all-pervasive government rule, spies are everywhere.

There are many perils for a little girl with a peculiar face and, as she grows up, Neverfell wants to know about her origins. She has no memory of her time before falling into the cheese vat. She feels that she must strive to find out who she is. She knows she is different because the people of Caverna are born with no expression. These must be learned and only the rich can afford a Facesmith who will teach them a range of expressions to cover joy, love, fear and hatred and, if they have enough money, all in-between. The poor and oppressed must make do with the face they were born with leading to a life of drudgery and despair with no way to express their pain.

When Neverfell accidentally leaves the cheesemaker’s domain she becomes the subject of court intrigue and attracts the attention of Maxim Childersin, head of one of the important wine-making families of Caverna She also has the unwelcome scrutiny of the Head Steward himself, so things are going to change. She makes friends and is shown the darker side of Caverna. Will she ever be able to show her face? Will she ever find where she came from?

‘A Face Like Glass’ plays with the idea that our face is our fortunes. Imagining that people can be born without in-built expressions is a wonderful conceit that leads on through the book. The power of intrigue is, of course, made stronger when you can arrange your face to lie to the world. The set-up of Caverna with its array of businesses and the even more subterranean world of the Drudges made me think of HG Wells’ Eloi and Morlocks. It’s the class system writ large, a world that relies on servants and slaves.

Aimed at the Young Adult market, this book is eminently readable and very clever. It raises some great questions about how we view the world, the power of friendship and betrayal and how just one look can change the world.

Sue Davies

May 2017

(pub: Amulet Books/Abrams Books. 487 page enlarged paperback. Price: £15.54 (UK), $19.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-41972-484-8)

check out website: www.abramsbooks.com

Category: Books, Fantasy

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