Welcome to Caverna, a sprawling, fantastical underground city where master vintners brew wines which can erase memory, where cheesemasters create dairy products which can destroy entire streets if not kept correctly - and where facial expressions have to be bought. It's a world to trap the unwary, one of beauty and majesty and magic, but one which is filled with machination upon machination. How can you trust anyone when the look upon their face is a lie, chosen deliberately from a limited and immediately recognisable range designed by a Facesmith?
Into this world falls Neverfell, a girl whose face is like glass. Unlike the rest of Caverna, her facial expressions come naturally, without needing to be learned. It is impossible for her to lie in this city of lies, and her arrival cuts deep to the heart of this rotten, dystopian society.
A Face Like Glass is a very...sweet story. It's nice. Despite all its deceptive horror, Caverna is a fascinating, enchanting world, full of larger-than-life characters, irresistible rogues, deep hidden tunnels, villains with hearts of gold. It's very much in the Edge Chronicles tradition of a caricatured, utterly alien world. Hardinge's prose reflects this: hypnotic and fairy-tale-ish, with twisty, turny sentences:
Wicked glints slunk along the iron angles of the mangled mangle.
You get the feeling she had fun writing this strange story of schizophrenic leaders and contagious Cartography.
The plot is, it has to be said, fairly ingenious, a thing of devious twists and unexpected turns, Big Reveal upon Big Reveal, with a suitably gruesome denouement. And Neverfell herself is a brilliant heroine, clumsy, talkative but not particularly eloquent, incredibly loyal and very honest. In a word, she's childish. Because, you know, she's only twelve. It's nice to see a YA heroine who actually acts her age.
A Face Like Glass is a pretty, original fairy-tale story with an interesting plot and fascinatingly strange characters (check out the Kleptomancer!). Would make a nice light read after, e.g., Bleak House or something similarly depressing.