Review: ‘A Face Like Glass’ by Frances Hardinge

aflgSynopsis: “In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare – wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear – at a price.”

Young and naive, Neverfell appears without explanation in an underground city called Caverna, where amazing magical crafts are practiced by masters and a medieval court system operates like an elaborate and deadly dance. Not to mention that all of Caverna’s citizens (except Neverfell) have to learn to don specific faicial expressions like masks.

A Face Like Glass was first and foremost a beautiful read. I found that the language and vivid imagination above anything sucked me into the world. Whilst I don’t generally like comparing one book to another, this definitely felt Alice in Wonderland-esque.

There is an abundance of action and adventure mixed with magic and intrigue. I love how completely original all the magical artefacts are, from wines and cheeses to perfumes and jellies, described so vividly you can amost touch them. The delicacies are of such opulence and luxury that the gap between the master craftsmen and the working ‘drudges’ is made so much greater. Indeed, one of the most insightful and relevant themes of the book is this wealth gap. In comparison to the elites, the drudges undertake deadly manual labour trying to afford enough eggs to prevent their children getting rickets, all the while only being taught enough faces to express satisfied subsurvience. Pretty dark, but a very interesting social commentary.

Neverfell is frustratingly naieve but her wild character is a joy to read, especially as her self-awareness develops and she learns more about the world around her and why she shouldn’t necessarily trust everyone she meets.

Whist A Face Like Glass is a middle grade book (not that it is simplistic in any way but it is reflected in the age of the protagonist) this is such a unique and sophisticated novel that could be read and enjoyed by children, teens and adults of any age.

Favourite quotes:

“All her life Neverfell had suffered the dull, embarrassed ache of the knowledge that she was always the maddest person in the room.”

“The cheeses were Grandible’s only friends and family, their scents and textures taking the place of conversation. They were his children, waiting moon-faced on their shelves for him to bathe them, turn them and tend to them.”

Top three reasons to read:

  • The writing itself is beautiful and a pleasure to read.
  • Everything is so quirky and imaginative; you will laugh out loud.
  • As a standalone book, it’s a refreshing break from endless series/trilogies and the angst of waiting for each sequel to come out.

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