Frances Hardinge’s books are so wonderfully creative. I love that the worlds she builds are so layered and surprising, and that’s certainly true of the world in A Face Like Glass. But, as fascinating as the world is, I found this book more difficult to stick with than her others.
The book’s main character is Neverfell, a orphan who turned up in the underground world of Caverna with no memory and no known history. The cheesemaker who found and raised her decided her face was so disturbing to look at that she must keep it covered at all times.
Faces are a commodity in Caverna because the people do not automatically change expressions with their mood. Facesmiths create faces that people can purchase to express certain feelings. Having a lot a faces is a sign of wealth and privilege, and certain kinds of expressions simply aren’t available to those of lower status.
Food is also important because it often has mind-altering properties. It can cause hallucinations or wipe out memories. And, among the wealthy, meals are serious matters in which every move is meticulously calculated.
A chain of circumstances involving an important Facesmith and a desirable cheese brings Neverfell in contact with some of the most powerful people in Caverna society, and her face makes her a source of fascination and suspicion. Neverfell becomes curious about her own origins, but her actions (both deliberate and accidental) keep getting her into trouble. It’s hard for her to work out who she can trust, but she barrels on ahead, trying to protect herself and others while the secrets she uncovers get more and more dangerous.
I think my main struggle with this book is that the story is so relentless, right from the start. There’s very little scene-setting and very few pauses to get acquainted with Neverfell and her world. It’s just one thing after another. I’m not necessarily against a very plotty book, but this was too much for me.