A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge – Review

Published: May 9, 2017

Publisher: Amulet Books

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Series: Standalone

Pages: 496 (Hardcover)

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except 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 express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a 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. Neverfell’s expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . .

A Face Like Glass is one of those books that turns your expectations upside down in a good way. I obviously read the synopsis, so had some idea of what the story was about (otherwise I wouldn’t have accepted a copy) but the synopsis in no way captures the unique strangeness of this story.

Neverfell must always wear a velvet mask to cover her face when in the presence of others and has never seen her face in a mirror or been let outside the halls of her master, the cheesemaker Grandible. She assumes she is horribly disfigured or terribly ugly and has never been told otherwise. Neverfell is quite normal in appearance, aside from the emotions and expressions that flit across her face as rapidly as a hummingbird between flowers. In Caverna, the great underground city that is home to wonderous alchemical cheese, wine, and countless other delicacies, people are born with blank, expressionless faces and are taught expressions by Facesmiths. As with most things, the rich have more and better quality faces, while the poor laborers only have a few, and those are bland at best. All is well until Neverfell leaves Grandible’s halls on a rabbit chase and her alarmingly open face is exposed – now she’s both dangerous to and desired by the most powerful people in Caverna.

Neverfell was a hopelessly naïve and innocent character and, though at times I found it frustrating, it was a believable portrayal. She had no prior experience living outside of the sheltered world she knew nothing of the political machinations of others. The secondary characters were interesting overall, though some certainly shone brighter than others. The Grand Steward was a particularly memorable character – his dual aspects of Left Eye and Right Eye were really unusual and I liked the idea. The two aspects were basically opposites of each other – one being feeling/intuition and the other being logic/reasoning. The duality was well written and the execution of the Grand Stewards storyline played out nicely. The worldbuilding and descriptions of Caverna, the citizens, and the delicacies made therein really made this book stand out from the crowd. I love the idea of wine that can make you forget bad memories or sharpen other, cheese that can explode or vent acid if not properly tended, and cartographers that can drive a person mad if they listen to their speech for too long.

My biggest (and only) peeve with this book is the abruptness with which the story wrapped up. There was a convenient blank area which spanned months, leaving a gaping hole in terms of plot. As I neared the end, the reasoning behind this missing time period made sense… but I didn’t care for it. The ending felt lazy or like the author suddenly realized they had something more important to do and said “that’s good enough”.

Other than my single complaint I thought A Face Like Glass was a refreshingly different book with a marvelously detailed food culture. The Facesmithing, while a major component of the story, couldn’t beat out the wild culinary artistry as my favorite detail…. But then again, I do love food, so it’s really no surprise. A Face Like Glass has been out for some time in the UK, but is newly released in the US as of 5/9/17. I highly recommend this book and you should consider checking it out!!

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