My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It was a very happy accident that I bought this book. I’d read ‘A Handful of Ashes’ from the brilliant Under My Hat story collection and mistakenly thought that Frances Hardinge was the author (in fact, it’s by Garth Nix). But I’m very glad I did mix the two authors up.
A Face Like Glass tells the story of Neverfell, an orphan growing up in the underground world of Caverna; a place where craftsmen make treasures beyond compare, but where the citizens cannot change their facial expressions. There’s a pleasingly Pratchett-like feel to this book, which opens in the renowned Cheese Tunnels (reminiscent surely of the cave-ripened cheeses of Cheddar, near Pratchett’s home?) and carries on with a cheerful, matter of fact tone not dissimilar to Good Omens . It’s not clear when the story is set, but it has a vaguely steampunk/victorian feel to it as well, like Stormhold in Stardust.
As you might imagine in a book with a definite YA angle, Neverfell can’t stay in the sheltered world of cheesemaking forever, and the story follows her coming of age as she discovers more about Caverna, its inhabitants and herself along the way. Pleasingly however, the central message here isn’t reliant on her gender or on the romance so prevalent in teen fiction, though appearance plays a very surprising role. I really enjoyed that the characters had time to develop through great dialogue and friendship, rather than being bounced along a plot that demanded rapid pairing up and rescue. That’s not to say that this story is slow though. The rhythm may vary in places, with some parts slower than others, but it never feels too slow or boring, and the action scenes buzz along at a real clip.
Neverfell herself is a fantastic central character, whom it’s hard not to fall in love with in the space of the first few pages. She’s so unique, so original and apparently indomitable, though not without flaw as readers will find, that she makes a fantastic hero/rolemodel for the tween/YA market against the likes of Bella Swan or Karou from Daughter of Smoke and Bone.
A brilliantly original page turner. Come for the cheese and stay for the unique blend of character, action and humour.