By Frances Hardinge
Published by Macmillan Children's Books
ISBN 978 0 230 74879 8
How many facial expressions have you used today? Have you smiled? Have you looked angry? Have you had expressed your disappointment by pulling a face that says clearly how you feel? We let the world know how we are feeling by our facial expressions. But people in the underground city of Caverna have only one natural facial expression, and that is blank.
When a child is born in Caverna, his or her face registers no expression at all, and expressions like sadness or happiness have to be acquired. The poor can only afford a few basic facial expressions, because the looks on your face are bought like items of clothing. The richer you are, the more facial expressions you can buy - there is a limitless choice as long as you hand over the cash to a Facesmith. The job of Facesmith, a teacher of facial expressions, is a lucrative and powerful one in Caverna.
Frances Hardinge's latest novel, A Face Like Glass, is one of the most inventive and well-imagined stories you are likely to come across in bookshops at the moment. The plot, writing and characters are up there with the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and, if justice is done, word-of-mouth should send this gem to the top of best-seller lists.
A Face Like Glass is one of those rare novels that grabs you so tightly you don't want to put it down and simultaneously feel the desperate need to tell everyone how good it is. This is a tremendous work of fiction that is in a league of its own.
Caverna is rich because of its skilled craftsmen, but there is another side to the city. Deep in the darkest tunnels, drudges slave to keep the city functioning. Their world is hellish, and there is nothing they can do to change the oppression and cruelty they endure.
Out of nowhere, a little girl appears in Caverna with a face that can register all human emotions. She grows up not knowing who she is or where she has come from. Her name is Neverfell, and her destiny is to change Caverna for ever.
The premise and setting of A Face Like Glass are both extraordinary, and few writers would have the writing skills or the imagination to pull them off. Hardinge has created something astonishing and essential with this novel. Ignore the insipid and messy cover of the hardback edition of A Face Like Glass. It does nothing for the outstanding work of fiction it hides.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com