Book Review of A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Posted November 20, 2012 by Kara in Uncategorized / 10 Comments

Blurb: Pan Macmillan

Release Date: May 10th, 2012
Pages: 490
Genre: Middle-Grade Fantasy but it was also a dystopia!
Source: I bought a copy for my Kindle.

Blurb from Goodreads: In Caverna, lies are an art—and everyone’s an artist…

In the underground city of Caverna the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare — wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but 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 show (or fake) joy, despair or fear—at a price.

Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little 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. For Neverfell’s emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed…

Review: This was my first foray into Frances Hardinge’s writing and it will certainly not be my last. I really, REALLY enjoyed this book. I have a few gripes and I will get to those in a minute, but first I want to talk about the good stuff and that will take up most of my review, thankfully!

Neverfell is a young girl who has no recollection of her past memories. One day she shows up underground in Master Grandible’s cheese tunnels, stuck in a vat of curds. He fishes her out, and when he sees her face, something about it shocks him. From that point on he has her wear a mask that covers her entire face and she is not permitted to leave his tunnels. Ever. Until one day when Master Grandible’s rabbit escapes and she slips through a crack in the wall to go after it. That is where our story truly begins.

Just like the blurb says, Caverna is a wonderful but utterly bizarre place, where for the most part, nothing makes sense. Not even to the reader. You’d think this would be a bad thing, but it wasn’t. It’s not like you don’t understand what is going on while you are reading, because you do, it just defies logic. I am surprised this is a middle-grade novel because there are some pretty advanced concepts in this book. It’s not that kids can’t handle that because they can, but for me it even went a bit overboard. It is just so utterly detailed and imaginative.

And it would be at this point that I bring up my few complaints about A Face Like Glass. I felt it was a bit TOO ambitious. The world-building was terrific and well-thought out but it didn’t completely make sense to me. Especially the part with the Facesmiths and how Caverna’s citizens’ facial expressions did not fully develop. I don’t want to ruin this for you so I am just going to mention that it was never fully explained and I had a tough time stretching my mind and suspending disbelief for a concept so advanced and out there. It was just a little over-the-top for me, and I know this is completely a personal preference but I need my world-building to either make logical sense or be properly explained.

 I also felt the characters were a little flat. Not Neverfall–she was awesome–but the rest were. Most of the characters were crucial to the plot and I feel like I never really got to know them as much as I should have. And that’s not good because it kept me from caring as much as I wanted to. I cared about what happened to Neverfell but the rest of them were just names with physical descriptions and not much in the way of personality.

But…BUT, that is where my complaints end. The setting descriptions were lush and the scenery was brilliantly rendered. The story was freaking fantastic. It starts out a little slow with the exposition and building of the story, but once it does, it’s a page turner. You just have to keep flipping pages to find out what happens next. And this is not a short book. Sometimes it feels like it’s a bit too wordy, but the language and writing are beautiful so it totally was NOT an issue for me. Yeah, that’s right. This author is a master wordsmith.

So would I recommend this one? You bet. But not to everyone. If you liked Alice in Wonderland you will probably like this. The writing is detailed and the ideas are fantastical. I spent half of this book wondering if I was drunk or in a drug haze. That sounds like Alice in Wonderland to me. It’s bizarre and feels eccentric at times. This is a middle-grade book that doesn’t really feel like a middle-grade book. But I loved it just the same. I will definitely be looking into this author’s other work as soon as I have a chance.

4/5 Dragons
To purchase A Face Like Glass from, click here: Face Like Glass.

10 responses to “Book Review of A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

  1. LOL do you often read in a drug haze? I DO!

    Anyway, this one doesn’t really sound like one I would read but I am so happy that you enjoyed it. The concept of the underdeveloped facial expressions raised my eyebrows and then I made weird faces while I read the rest of your reviews.

    Awesome that Neverfall was so well developed and that you cared for her, too bad about the secondary characters but every now and then an MC is so good that she can carry the novel herself, I find. Sounds like that happened here.

    Great review chickie!

    • I do not often read in a drug haze. But it certainly FELT like I was!

      It was a very strange book. I love strange books but sometimes it can be even too much for me. I still really liked this one though.

      You are right about the protagonist being able to carry the book herself. She could. I think part of the problem was there were so MANY characters in this one.

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! In fact, I think it’s one of my fav reads this year and I can only recommend her other books such as “Twilight Robbery” if you love well written fantasy with a touch of, well, a bit of a Terry Pratchett vibe!

    • I’m glad! I’ve added her other books to my list and as soon as I get a chance to read them, I will. I’ve heard that this one was her most ambitious so maybe the others won’t be quite as over the top as this one. Thanks, Birgit!

  3. Amy

    This sounds really awesome! I honestly hadn’t heard of it before now. It’s too bad that the secondary characters aren’t more developed, but it seems like it didn’t turn you off on the book. It sounds like there is a lot going on and sometimes I have a hard time with books like that, but your review has made me interested in this. Fab review as always hon!

    • I’m glad I interested you in it. It’s actually a really brilliant book with just a few tiny flaws. Like I said, it’s a middle grade novel that doesn’t really feel like one. It has a lot of crossover potential.

      I think part of the reason I had an issue with some of the secondary characters is that there were a lot of them. It is hard to make so many characters as well-developed as the protagonist. So, all things considering, I think the author did a pretty kick-ass job.

  4. It’s a dystopia?!?!?! *skips*

    Hmmm, I’m a bit concerned that it was so bizarre, because I often don’t like that in books, unless it’s pitch perfect.

    Often only the main character is well-developed, and books can still score highly for me that way. People are so much in their own heads that I can excuse it. Still, it’s obviously better if ALL of the characters feel well-fleshed out.

    Eesh, I’m just not sure, because I HATE feeling like I’m on drugs. Maybe I should read the first half tipsy?

    • Hahaha, it is. I know how you are in to those! I think you might really love this one Christina. You are a lover of the unusual like I am.

      You raise a good point. Neverfell DID spend a lot of time in her own head. I had not thought about it that way. And again, there were a fair amount of characters so it was hard to devote a ton of time to each otherwise the book would have been 800 pages. You have to cut corners somewhere.

      LOL reading the first half tipsy would be a great idea. It’s a really fun book. I truly enjoyed it.

  5. I certainly never thought this would be a middle grade level book by the looks of that cover. The author sounds very familiar as well.
    I’ll add this one to the “want” pile.

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