In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except 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 express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . . (goodreads.com)
It took me a little bit to get into A FACE LIKE GLASS. The writing style is very whimsical and a bit wordy, but Hardinge created a great world that’s vivid and full of life even if the plot was a little slow-moving at times. Neverfell was a frustrating yet endearing character that seemed to be pushed along in the story more than she was an active participant in it. She really didn’t come into her own until the last quarter of the book, but the ending was so incredibly sweet and fantastic I pretty much forgave it everything with which I took issue.
The writing does take a little getting used to and it does get a little boggy at times, but it’s NICE writing. I didn’t necessarily mind that it took longer to get from point A to point B because the writing was nice to look at. Every once in a while it got in its own way, but that was an exception to the rule, where the story focused more on being quirky and whimsical than telling the story itself.
The world Hardinge created is fantastic. These are basically mole people with castes within their little mole universe that ends with what is effectively a peasants’ revolt. The people who live in Caverna are nutrient-deficient, are smaller than they should be, sallow-skinned, and weaker. But there’s one family circumventing all of that and thanks to Neverfell the lid is literally blown off of that secret. It’s a vivid, multifaceted world that’s just as realistic as any in our world (the overworld). Hardinge has created a universe under the earth, even making Caverna itself a character actively plotting against the welfare of the people who inhabit her. It’s almost sinister despite its whimsical air.
I do wish Neverfell were a more active participant in her story. She’s shunted from one plot to another as a naive, over-trusting character and her personality does occasionally grate. She’s very wide-eyed and impulsive, basically with the actions of a much younger child in the body of someone who should know better, but who should basically be feral because of the way she was raised. But she’s endearing nonetheless (if she wasn’t I would have just been fully annoyed with her) and by the end of the book I was rooting for her to succeed and really take charge of what she was after. Finally she did.
A FACE LIKE GLASS is overall a cute story with a sinister edge to it. It’s a whimsical fairy tale with a heart of blackness. A lot of the more dastardly stuff happens off-page, but the author doesn’t skirt by it. It’s there and plays a part in the story, even if not a main part. I do think there’s something for everyone here, but you ultimately need some patience for it because it is a little slow to get going. But at least the words are nice.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.