A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge Review
I don’t think I’ve ever come across an author as imaginative as Frances Hardinge. Having previously read the award-winning The Lie Tree and Cuckoo Song, I’ve glimpsed at the marvels of her mind. But, I wasn’t prepared for the fantastical world that awaited me in A Face Like Glass.
In a claustrophobic labyrinth of caves known as Caverna, we meet Neverfell. She’s unlike anyone else in this world, but she doesn’t know why. All she knows is she must wear a velvet mask bestowed upon her by her guardian, Cheesemaster Grandible, who found her roaming his cheese tunnels with no recollection of her past. He hides her from the rest of Caverna for seven whole years with no explanation, until the fateful day she follows a rabbit out into the open and discovers there’s more to the world – and herself – than she ever could’ve imagined.
The people of Caverna are born without the ability to make expressions. They are blank canvases that must be taught Faces; those from the dregs of society only learn a handful, whereas the upper class have an extensive repertoire of expressions, such as A Placid Glow in a Homely Hearth and the Willow Bows Before the Gale. Neverfell soon learns that her keeper hid her from the rest of the world because her face shows her every emotion; she has a face like glass that is incapable of lying, something which is unheard of in Caverna… and feared.
If the ingenious premise wasn’t enough, Hardinge adds more depth to her world with crafts and delicacies capable of altering the mind. From wine that can erase memories, cheese that can show the future and perfume that can control thoughts, Caverna is full of wonders and dangers. These concoctions are coveted and capable of turning people against one another, even leading some to madness – none more so than the Grand Steward, who rules over Caverna.
A Face Like Glass features a captivating cast of characters that only Hardinge could create. There are Cartographers who have been driven mad through their profession, Facesmiths who specialise in the most sought-after expressions, and the mysterious Kleptomancer who thrives on theft and causing the most chaos he can. We also meet Putty Girls whose role it is to model Faces and the Enquiry who act as the law enforcers of the city, governed by the staunch Enquirer Treble.
Class division is prevalent in Caverna, as exemplified through Faces, and plays an important role in the characters we meet. Neverfell is taken in by the Childersins, a powerful family who are inexplicably taller and more astute than most in Caverna, but remains friends with Erstwhile, a boy from the underbelly of the city. She also meets Madame Appeline, a beautiful Facesmith who has created a poignant Tragedy range, with whom she feels a strange connection. Hardinge intwines her cast intricately and unravels a story that is full of surprise and mystique.
While the tale is told predominantly through Neverfell’s naive perspective, we are often gifted the insight of others. This method paints a vivid picture of the world and ensures we know only what Hardinge wants us to, which keeps us guessing with each turn of the page. The remarkable thing about A Face Like Glass is just when you think it has shown its hand, it subverts your expectations again. There are numerous twists and false endings that culminate in a thrilling finale without slowing the pace for a moment.
Proving once again that there is more to Young Adult fiction than meets the eye, Frances Hardinge is an exemplary author who has perfected her craft. Her next novel, A Skinful of Shadows, is due to be released on 21st September and will be jumping straight to the top of my to be read pile.
Until next time,