A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

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A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: In the mysterious underground world of Caverna, skilled craftsmen create wondrous delicacies. But the people themselves are the greatest curiosity of all, because they are unable to show any natural expression whatsoever on their faces. Until, that is, the day when Neverfell arrives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 390 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780230748798

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Longlisted for the CILIP Carnegie Medal 2013

It would be hard to imagine any book by Frances Hardinge being anything but excellent. She has a knack for creating bizarre characters whose actions, somehow, make sense because they live in utterly fantastic but well-structured worlds. If you then add to the mix, as she does, a determined and thoroughly endearing young heroine for whom you simply have to stand up and cheer, then you are guaranteed a pleasurable and thought-provoking read.

The premise is an extraordinary one, and it is unlikely that most writers would even have the nerve to try it. Fortunately for us Ms Hardinge has both the imagination and the skill to pull it off. Imagine a world where children do not learn in the cradle to show their feelings through their expressions. Their faces remain blank and impenetrable, never responding to their parents or nurses. Instead, their families have to rely on Facesmiths whom they hire to teach expressions to their children. Needless to say, the rich are able to pay for a wide range, which they practise until they are able to show them at will. The poor, on the other hand, are given only a couple. The results of this situation are truly dreadful for rich and poor alike, and this aspect of the story will surely stay with the reader long after they have read the final pages. The wealthy can conceal their true emotions, because they are able to choose any 'Face' they like, and so they are never honest: being secretive (and sometimes even treacherous) is a way of life, especially at Court. The drudges, on the other hand, who spend their lives, such as they are, in toil and misery, are not allowed to learn any facial expression which would indicate dissatisfaction, anger or unhappiness. As one of them explains to Neverfell: if you cannot tell whether or not your companions would support you in a protest, you simply cannot risk speaking up against the oppression and cruelty you experience. It's a simple but powerful way to control slaves, and one which has led, inevitably, to the ruthless class distinctions which exist in Cavernan society.

Into this bizarre underground world, where artists and craftsmen spend their lives making delicate foods, perfumes and other luxury goods, where spilling a drop of wine on a table cloth can mean the death penalty, and where politics, rivalry and murder are a way of life, comes Neverfell. She has clearly come from elsewhere, because every emotion she feels is openly revealed on her face, and for many years the old man who takes her in as an apprentice insists she must wear a mask. The poor girl has no mirror, and so she believes he does this because she is too ugly for others to see. Of course she does not stay hidden forever: eventually (thanks to a stubborn and resourceful rabbit with a taste for freedom!) she leaves the cheese caves which are the only home she has ever known, and finds herself in the middle of a power struggle between the various factions which make up the elite in this underground world. There she is an oddity, and therefore to be prized — or killed.

The reader will be with Neverfell all the way as she learns about her new home and battles for survival and justice. She is a really likeable character, loyal to her friends, and stubbornly intent on improving life for everyone around her. This is the kind of book which makes you slow down as you reach the final pages because you don't want it to end, and which will provide thoughtful readers with much to ponder and discuss.

Anything Frances Hardinge writes is worth reading. Try Fly By Night and the sequel Twilight Robbery about a resourceful young girl called Mosca, set in another truly extraordinary world. You might also appreciate Twister by Juliette Forrest. We can also recommend The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M Valente.

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Buy A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge at Amazon.com.

You can download a sample chapter of Face Like Glass in PDF format.


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