A Face Like Glass

Caverna is a mad, marvelous underground world filled with artisan-crafted luxuries--"wines that rewrote the subtle book of memory, cheeses that brought visions, spices that sharpened the senses"--whose residents long ago retreated to its tunnels when the aboveground cities fell "into ruin beneath the ravages of war and weather." These underground citizens are born without the ability to adjust their facial features into expressions. Specially trained "Facesmiths" teach people anywhere from one or two placid, servile Faces (for the low-class Drudges)--to several hundred subtle Faces (for the affluent elite, who might choose to wear a smile called "Face No. 301, Dewdrops Regarded in a Spirit of Hope").

Neverfell is a 12-year-old "tangle of fidget and frisk" who, seven years earlier, mysteriously appeared in the passageways near master cheesemaker Grandible's private rooms and laboratories. The gruff Grandible took in the girl as an apprentice but made her wear a mask when he discovered, to his horror, that her face was naturally at the mercy of her emotions, and she was therefore incapable of lying--thus, A Face Like Glass. When Neverfell runs away from Grandible to steal back a valuable piece of cheese she wrongly gave away, she is abruptly exposed to the bizarre, many-tiered world of Caverna, with its intrigue, classism and betrayal.

Frances Hardinge (The Lie Tree; Fly by Night) writes at full throttle, with luscious language, viscerally evocative descriptions and more plot twists and turns than the Minotaur's labyrinth. Themes of empathy and honesty provide the foundation for this stunner, but it's the wily storyline and gorgeous writing that will leave readers longing for a new Face to express their devotion to the author. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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