Sunday, 20 May 2012
A Face Like Glass- Frances Hardinge
I am a big fan of Frances Hardinge. There are links to my interview with her for Playing By The Book and a review of Fly By Night here . It is always with trepidation that I pick up a new book by an author whose work I've admired so much, but I'm very grateful that I managed to get a review copy at the Federation of Children's Book Groups conference last month.
After a cataclysmic war and climate change, a city has retreated underground to the caverns where they have stored food, and developed a new city, Caverna. At the beginning of the novel, Master Grandible the cheese maker is tending his cheeses when a small girl pops up in a barrel of curds. Since it is the name of the cheese he is making, he calls her Neverfell and looks after her, but there is something so strange about her face that he makes her wear a velvet mask- unlike all the other residents of Caverna, whose faces are blank unless they buy expressions from a Facesmith, Neverfell is incapable of dissembling. Not only does her face show everything she is feeling, she blunders about court telling people what she thinks as soon as it comes into her head.
Caverna, we learn, is ruled by the Grand Steward, who is preserved by the True Delicacies- food with almost magical properties (cheeses that are hallucinogens amongst other things)- and an army of food tasters. After Neverfell runs away from Master Grandible's tunnels, she becomes involve with the Childersin family, master vintners, and particularly Zouelle who creates the alchemy involved in mixing the True Wines. There are wines that help you forget or remember, and Zouelle carries one with her at all times. The Childersins take her in after she is released from arrest on suspicion of being an assassin, and after an accident at a state banquet, she is taken on by the Grand Steward as a foodtaster. However, beneath the factions at court and the daring exploits of master thief the Kleptomancer, there is something else going on- is it a plot to take control of Caverna? and can Neverfell survive?
This novel is as rich and perfumed as the food and court life it describes. When I started reading it I found it almost too rich, being able to only read a couple of pages at a time. But this morning I have read half the book at one sitting, greedily gulping down Hardinge's opulent prose. I highly recommend it for readers of 11+, as I do her other novels. She's a fantastic writer.