I’m in a good place for a stand alone. Recently I’ve been reading a lot of stand alones, so this is not so out there for me. But hopefully after all of these I’ll be able to dive right back into to finishing all those series I’ve been hoarding the second book to. Maybe. In a perfect world. In this world we get this book.
Customary warning: This is a reminder that these are my personal opinions. My thoughts and feelings are not your thoughts and feelings. I may not always be the target audience for a book; sometimes I am. If I do not like a book, that doesn’t mean you’ll dislike it. If I love a book or simply like a book, you may hate it. Take everything I say with this knowledge. If it sounds interesting to you despite what I’ve said, then go ahead and read it. You’ll only know you like something if you read it yourself.
That being said… Spoilers ahead.
A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge
Synopsis From The Book
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 . . .
Fantasy | MG – M |Death, Murder, Emotional Manipulation | Expression and Emotion, Truth, Understanding the Self, Becoming
Initial Thoughts Before Reading:
I am so ready for this book! This synopsis GETS me. I am ready to be horrified and to have nightmares and to be unable to sleep tonight. Oh how I hope. This book seems so creepy, but has a great premise. I love it. I also really like the premise of this authors other books so, if I really like this book I may be giving her other books a chance as well. (You know to be added to my never ending list of books to get because who actually has that kind of time and money?) Regardless, let’s dive in!
This book is going to be read for my O.W.L.s fitting the prompt of Astronomy (read majority of this book at night). I had to wait so long to read this. Final book I read this month too.
Initial Thoughts After Reading:
Oh. My. God. Everyone is so murderous in this, so breathtakingly beautiful. It is so… I think this might become one of my favorite books. The reread value of this book will determine that. Alice and Catcher I’ve read enough times I can probably quote them and if this book holds that same reread value for me, then I probably will rate it as a favorite. Which will be new to me, because I never put books on that level.
It is most certainly written for a younger audience, at least age wise. Topic wise, perhaps not. Absurdity wise this gave me MAJOR Alice vibes. I mean major ones. I just don’t know what to say. It was just so good. You may scoff and say, that plot sounds so convoluted or easy. And perhaps. But it is so twisted and brilliantly written. And the MAGIC and the WORLD it’s so wonderful. It’s.
Filled with flaws but there is a beauty in flaws.
Seven years ago, Cheesemaster Grandible, found a girl in his cheese tunnels. He named her Neverfell and she had a face of glass. In Caverna, people have to learn to make expressions, like learning words or to walk. They have to train their faces and their muscles can forget. They don’t simply emote. Neverfell can, and it is assumed she is from the surface. At 12, Neverfell has never seen her face. She believes herself hideous, because Grandible makes her hide her face at all times. She works with cheeses with him. One day a Facesmith, Madame Vesperta Appeline, comes and asks to taste a cheese that they are planning to debut at a massive ball. Grandible says no.
Neverfell gets the opportunity to send it to the woman thinking the woman could make her pretty by teaching her a face, that she sends a part of a sample cheese to her when Grandible is sleeping. He wakes and freaks out and she learns that what she did was essentially twining them back in the politics of blood. After a rabbit escapes (which is now her duty from her mistake), she takes the opportunity to try to get back the cheese. She finds a girl name Zouelle, who tells Neverfell to sneak inside and give the madame wine. Neverfell ends up causing a scene, eating the cheese, and dropping her mask that always hides her face. The world is set into panic and she is taken by the Enquiry.
The Enquiry questions her as an outsider spy, but she knows nothing. She continuously freaks them out and someone tries to kill her. A man named Maxim Childersin, ends up helping her buy her freedom. She sells herself for all the sins of what she did taking the blame for everything (from her harboring, etc). He then buys her and ‘owns” her. He makes a good father like figure for her. She gets some new experiences and lives with Zouelle who is his niece. She learns about the Morning Room, where they eat food once a day under a big blue light, and how they live on the 24-hour clock instead of the 25-hour clock. They go to a Court party where Neverfell sees the dark politics. After a servant drops a drop of wine, Neverfell knocks over her glass of wine causing a massive scene to save him. She is then kicked out and Maxim is considered as good as dead for upsetting the Grand Steward. The cheese that Neverfell and Grandible worked on is stollen by the Kleptomancer.
She turns herself in, and the Grand Steward — Left-Eye — gives her a job as a food taster. The Grand Steward has two personalities, Left-Eye and Right-Eye. Both are very different people. Right-Eye is cautious of her, but in time they come up with a plan to steal the Kleptomancer. Neverfell gets this idea in her head that the Madame is her mother, and tries to learn more about her. She is also almost assassinated again and then kidnapped by the Kleptomancer, who reveals that it is all a part of a larger plot. He also erases his memories and gives them back, and was a Cartographer for a while (aka he went mad). Neverfell escapes him and ends up in the drudges where she finds her courier friend Erstwhile.
She learns that the drudges are filled with people who never learn many faces, so they are unable to emote at least a little and as such are able to be worked to the bone because no one ever can show dissatisfaction. AKA they are slaves and the upper society doesn’t care. Neverfell returns to the castle but she is changed by what she saw. Right-Eye demands she get the stain erased. She and Zouelle go to the Madame. Neverfell asks the Madame about a lost child and makes the Madame irritated or sad (she can not tell). Neverfell takes a nap, and then after the nap speaks with the Madame about perhaps saving the drudges with faces. The Madame agrees and Neverfell returns to work.
She’s about to die when she see’s Left-Eye is in charge, and he doesn’t kill her because she brightens up (he was going to because she irritated him). The food tasting begins, and then Left-Eye goes mad. the Enquiry use a bag of smelling salts to wake Right-Eye (who gave it to them to wake him if Left-Eye tried to kill Neverfell or something else stupid). Left-Eye and Right-Eye cause a big massacre and then kill each other, or themselves depending on how you look at it. The remainder of the Enquiry jumps, Maxim Childersin says no, we are making a new council. He says they’ll torture Neverfell until she says anything and that her true expression now, for a girl who can not lie, is the truth. Neverfell is taken back to the Childersin home. She later goes back to Madame’s and is denied to talk to her but talks to another girl and learns something. She returns to the Childersin’s where she confronts Zouelle and finds out that Zouelle wiped her memories.
While she was at the Madame’s they went to a secret room and Neverfell saw something that destroyed her to the point where Zouelle gave her wine laced in antidote, that they were then able to kill the Grand Steward. the MAdame and Maxim were involved. Neverfell escpaes the Childersin’s, and is saved by the servants of the palace who were helping her send her letters and saved her because she’s the onle one who ever saved them (in 500 years). She then goes to Erstwhile.
She and Earstwhile look at the ‘rehersals’ practice murders done in the drudges. They find out the truth of the poison that killed. Neverfell then talks to Cartographers and learns more about how the conspiracy. She learns that Madame helped Maxim build a tunnel to the surface, and that she moved the rocks for him. They made the Morning Room and connected them with their places. The Morning Room allowed the childersin family to be much better than others. After convincing the drudges to rise up, Neverfell finds the Kleptomancer and talks with him.
And loses her memory.
Neverfell finds herself talking to Maxim after giving herself up, two months later. She is met by Zouelle who gives her a Wine. The Wine does not take her memories like Maxim intended, but gives her back her old ones. She remembers some of her plan and reveals all at the trial. Then she remembers more and how she has set up a rebellion. The Rebellion breaks out, and Neverfell flees with her allies. Neverfell finds Madame and finds out the Madame killed her mother to get the Tragedy Range of Faces, as well as some others. She then tried to siphon off of Neverfell’s faces before Neverfell escaped seven years ago, at 5yrs old. Neverfell kills her. They, Neverfell and the Rebellion, make it to the Morning Room where Zouelle is waiting, after escaping her family, and they climb to the top. Neverfell and Grandible make up. As Neverfell and Zouelle are about to climb, Maxim and the Cartographers (who sensed the opening of the tunnel) arrive. Zouelle uses a Perfume to put the Cartographers on Maxim and they all escape. The Kleptomancer takes over the city and says he’ll he the new hidden Grand Steward, although he isn’t sure what he wants to do with the city now that he knows that he finished his goal. He’s hurt his own mind of the task, after all. Those who made it to the outside, move to start a new life.
What I Liked:
Cheesemaster Grandible; He is the maker of True Cheeses. He is a member of the Craft class and can be a noble in Court. However he acts like he wants nothing to do with them, is constantly afraid of spies and assassins and is perhaps one of my favorite character introductions. When we first are introduced to him and the world we get cheese this and cheese that, how the world works, and how smart he is all at once. He is a true noble trying anything but to be, and I love that.
Neverfell Grandible; She was five when found and wore purple velvet mask because she thought she was ugly. This means that seven years later she is twelve when this novel happens and she acts just like a twelve year old. She has to mature real quick because she’s thrown into a ploy of murder, but she is twelve all the same. She is so focused on trying to survive and while being a kid that I approve. I love her and I will fight for her.
Characters: I really loved the characters that we were introduced to in this book, and in general found them all pretty well developed. For the sake of simplicity sake, I’m going to state that here as I fan girl over them below.
Maxim Childersin; Wine dynasty ruler who wanted to make sure he ruled the world. What a nasty but conniving man. He was was smart, had a goal, and was ready to achieve it at any cost necessary.
Madame Vesperta Appeline; What a horrible woman who actually made so much sense. She wanted faces and so she got faces, at any cost necessary, even if that meant destroying Neverfell’s mother. She’s horrible, but a fantastic villain like Maxim. She is 70 but hasn’t aged in 40 years. She invented the Tragedy Range seven years ago, as well as the Lamb Tails Range and Brook’s Source later. (I think at least for the later two)
Zouelle; What a sweet girl. I was almost certain she and Neverfell would hate each other. I’m so happy that they became close friends and helped each other out through the whole story.
Erstwhile; The other best friend with Neverfall, who showed her the truth of the world. I liked the role he played in the story to help Neverfell out just as Zouelle did, but as a sort of counterpart to Zouelle.
Kleptomancer; He was the one who stole random things, manipulated his memories consistently, in an attempt to take Caverna from everyone. And he succeeded, with probably memory issues. I’m interested to know how he plans to keep control over Caverna. His plot was perhaps my favorite, risking everything to achieve it and succeeding.
The Grand Steward; What a brilliantly confusing character. He plotted against himself, while having an extremely different ruling style depending on who was fronting. I loved this, and cry at the fact that he was poisoned to death. (Not to lie, however, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Left Eye actually just killed Right Eye, because their relationship was just like that.)
Enquiry; As a unit I liked seeing how cruel and dark they were when compared to even the way that the world worked.
Cartograph and Cartographers; Insane map makers. Talking can make others insane. I really liked this because it added another layer of mayhem into the story, that the only ones who seemed to know anything could talk to you for five minutes and spin your mind into a web so thick you’d never get out. They are as tumbled as Caverna is, because in order to map her they have to be like her, and that means twisted. I love it.
Caverna Masters of Craft; These people are the makers of the True Delicacies. True Delicacies are those things, like cheese wine, perfume, jelly, that make the magic become a part of the story. True Cheese can explode and cause visions of truth. True Wine can erase memories. Those that make these delicacies are just as mad as their delicacies are and people would kill for them. I loved this part so much because it added a layer of tension to the story from page one.
Caverna; The last major character for the series. She is the sunless city that the other characters inhabit. She runs on a 25 hour clock forcing people out of clock. There have to be trap lanterns or else everyone would suffocate from stale air. She is an intricate labyrinth of tunnels below the surface of the earth that is consistently growing and breathing. Those that know her love her and are as twisted as she is.
Facesmiths; Listen, this is perhaps one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever read. People have to learn expressions. It seems simple but the idea that someone’s expression can change like a flicker (like normal people) and have so much depth is an odd concept to people. There is an entire discipline to teach people new faces. There is fashion in faces as well as academies for it. The faces all explain different emotions. Below are all the ones that are mentioned that I listed and found. Knowing 200 makes you a noble, by the way, but there are far – far more. If the number is known, I’ll list it.
Faces; 41 The Badger in Hibernation. 29 Uncomprehending Fawn Before Hound. 64 Violet Trembling in Sudden Shower. In Contemplation of Verdigris. An Apprehension of Apple Boughs, Twinkle. Wry Charm. World Weary. Hint of Sadness. Core of Basic Integrity. Amused Shrewdness. Well of Deeper Wisdom. 312 Guardian at the Gray Gates. 33 Acknowledgement of Gallantry. 96 Slow Dawn Seen Through a Glass of Honeydew. 57 The Willow Bows Before the Gale. 92 Lamb Before the Butcher. 334 A Placid Glow in a Honey Hearth. 301 Dewdrops Regarded in a Spirit of Hope. 218 Ode to Peppermint. 23 Gazelle Preparing to Leap Stream. 144 Delicate Appeal of the Shell-less Fledgling.
Memories; Now usually the loss of memory drives me up a wall. Amnesia plots get me, however the way that memory is used in this story is an added layer of chaos. The Kleptomancer, for instance, uses it to stay ahead of everyone and himself. When Neverfell loses her memory, she doesn’t lament on it, and immediately gets it back because she loses it for a purpose and needs it back at a certain point, in order to stay ahead. Memory loss is a device used to advance the plot, rather to add drama, and I love it.
Writing Style; Lets get into the best part. Lay on the imagery. Lay on the insanity. Lay on the layers. You could tell when characters were looping around due to the effects of the True Delicacies or talking to Cartographers. The writing style was elaborate when need be, short at others, and so brilliantly made. The character descriptions, introductions, and intricacies of this world were so woven that it was a tapestry before the eyes like a song or poem resounding off the page and pulling your forward despite the fact that you did not want to because what you read was just so beautiful. This page however, is all you need to know to understand its beauty.
Here is a piece that falls between the chapters,
like a coin between paving stones.
It is a slice of silence in the middle of the melody.
It is a rough and ragged spot,
like the frills of stubs where pages have been torn out.
There is no point in looking for them.
They are gone.pg 425
What I Would Have Liked or Changed:
Nothing. Nothing at all.
“In Caverna lies were an art, and everybody was an artist, even young children.” – pg 5
“Wishes are thorns. They do us no good, just stick into skin and hurt us.” – pg 376
“Flaws are the most beautiful thing, are they not? Like the tiny fractures in a gem that glimmer when they catch the light. And sometimes they have shapes in them, like the flecks in a perfect eye you could sink into slide down the spirals so sweet and hopeless for she never forgives but coming back to the point a twister at the kissing points of two norths with a corkscrew radiance…” – pg 403
Spoiled? I’ll spoil them. A bit sadder, maybe. A bit wiser. But nothing rotten. You’re just growing yourself a rind at last. Still a good cheese.” – pg 472