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Literature / A Face Like Glass

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Deep underground, there is a city called Caverna that has retreated under the mountain 500 years ago. It's not your average underground city, though - it's divided between aristocratic houses of craftsmen, who create some of the delicacies that can only be found there, like Wines that can make you forget or remember something, cheeses that convey experience instead of taste or Perfumes that can submit you to the will of their wearer. There's something unusual about the people of Caverna themselves, as well - their faces are unable to convey emotions, so if they want to show - or conceal - what they are thinking and feeling, they have to learn facial expressions the way people learn foreign languages. There are special artisans called Facesmiths that can provide you with such education. It's not free, of course, so the range of one's expressions largely depends on their stand in society.

Once upon a time, a little girl turned up inside the domain of Grandible the Cheesemaker, who had barred himself from the rest of Caverna. No one, including herself, knew anything about her or where she had come from. There was something about her face that horrified Grandible, and he decided that Caverna is not for the likes of her. He hid the girl, who he called Neverfell, until she was twelve years old. But a string of accidents made Neverfell leave Grandible's domain and threw her into the world of deadly intrigues and even deadlier secrets. If Neverfell wishes to come out of her predicament alive and learn about her past, she has to work hard.

A Face like Glass was published in 2012 and is the fifth book by the British middle-grade author Frances Hardinge.


Tropes in A Face like Glass include:

  • Affably Evil/Soft-Spoken Sadist: Maxim Childersin. Also, Madame Appeline. Dear god, Madame Appeline.
  • Alien Geometries: So much so that trying to map Caverna turns you barking mad. Just ask any of the Cartographers. Or, rather, don't.
  • Alice Allusion: Neverfell is led out of Grandible's labyrinth by a white rabbit. Neverfell is also "a little mad" and the city she lives in operates under rather warped logic.
  • The Beautiful Elite: Neverfell notices that the Childersins are taller, more beautiful and healthy-looking than the rest of the Caverna. Turns out to be a justified and enforced trope.
  • Brown Note: Of a sort. Cartography knowledge drives people insane trying to understand it. For this reason cartographers are avoided and must not be listened to for more than five minutes at a time. Neverfell eventually discovers that there are Cartographers so crazy that even other Cartographers have to monitor the amount of time they spend with them.
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  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Neverfell. It's not that she can't tell it, it's that it's always very obvious what she's thinking.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: The extraordinary delicacies are always spelled with capital letters, unlike the more mundane cheeses, wines and perfumes.
  • Chekhov's Gun: How about everything? Seriously, everything that is mentioned in the novel at some point - the flytraps that provide the light, the glass grove of Madame Appeline, Grand Steward's death traps etc. - comes together at the end.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: All the aristocracy of Caverna display it, particularly the Childersins.
  • Crapsack World: Caverna is a battleground for aristocrats that fight tooth and nail for domination, while the drudges live in horrifying neglect and squalor. That's not even mentioning the fact that it's a sunless, underground city chock-full of Alien Geometries with a constant danger of a rockfall that may or may not have a mind of its own.
  • Deadly Decadent Court: Caverna is so deadly that the person in charge is basically plotting against themselves.
  • Defector from Decadence: Grandible became disillusioned with the power plays of the Court some time before the book starts, which is why he lives as a hermit. Later on, Zouelle Childersin adopts the sentiment.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Treachery runs so deep in Caverna society that altruism is unheard of. Neverfell's instinct to help others perplexes even the least loathsome of characters.
  • Eye of Newt: The ingredients and directions for making the delicacies are full of this. One Wine in particular calls for grapes that are tended to in silence, harvested during a new moon, crushed by orphans, and aged for a century while being serenaded by fine music.
  • Eye Scream: Why Perfume makers wear eyepatches. They have their eyes plucked out to strengthen their sense of smell and make them better at the craft.
  • Faux Horrific: People commonly react to Neverfell's bare face with alarm, despite it being it plain and ordinary. The citizens of Caverna are expressionless at birth and need to learn how to show emotion, while Neverfell's face can naturally show multiple emotions at once.
  • Gambit Pileup: How about All of Caverna? Just about everyone has some plot or plan of their own Neverfell in the climax deliberately reveals as many as she can at once to throw the court into panic
  • Genius Loci: Some characters (the Kleptomancer, Neverfell) speak of Caverna as one. But then again, they are either a little or wholly mad.
  • Happily Adopted: Neverfell and Grandible don't have the warmest relationship, but get along pretty well.
  • Immortality Immorality: The aristocracy of Caverna; the Grand Steward in particular.
  • Infectious Insanity: You can't speak with a Cartographer for longer than five minutes, otherwise your lot shall be bitter.
  • Laser-Guided Amnesia: Not exactly a spoiler-worthy trope, since we are told of the existence of memory-changing Wines in the very first chapter. What is spoiler-worthy, though, are some rather creative uses to which certain characters put these Wines.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Grandible named Neverfell after the variety of cheese in the vat he discovered her in.
  • Mad Artist: Madame Appeline could probably be classified as one. Her occupation is more of a craft than an art, and she does it not so much for its own sake as for money and respect in high society, but her discovery does turn out to be groundbreaking in her industry, and the way that she discovers the Tragedy Range and especially uses it on Neverfell is plain horrible.
  • Memory Gambit: The Kleptomancer carefully edits his own memories and gives himself sealed orders to follow in order to avoid being understood by the many Chessmasters in Caverna. he helps Neverfell do the same later
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Played with. On the one hand, people are capable of feeling emotions they don't know facial expressions for, they just feel weird when it happens. On the other hand, the drudges couldn't rebel because every one of them didn't know that the others are angry too, since they didn't have an expression for that.
  • The Reveal: A brilliant one, concerning Neverfell's origins.
  • Significant Green-Eyed Redhead: Neverfell, Madame Appeline, and Neverfell's mother.
  • Spanner in the Works: Neverfell functions as this in among everyone else's elaborate plans.
  • Wham Episode: The sixth chapter, wherein Neverfell first sees her "disfigured" face, discovering it's normal, and why it shocks everyone who sees it.
  • Wrench Wench: Neverfell has a talent for building machines.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Might as well be the national sport of Caverna, but Maxim Childersin proves to be the master of this trope.


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