A Face Like Glass

Upon finishing A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge, I had to fight the urge to immediately flip back to the beginning and start over. It was just that good. Alas, there are far too many books I want to read for only the very first time (including two of Hardinge's other novels, The Lie Tree and Fly By Night) for me to be rereading anything, even a new favorite.

A Face Like Glass is about a girl named Neverfell, who is adopted by a gruff cheesemaker after he discovers her wandering alone in his tunnels in the underground city of Caverna. Grandible is no ordinary cheesemaker, however; his cheeses have magical properties, as do the other delicacies produced by Caverna. Like their wares, the people of Caverna are unique, too; their expressions do not necessarily reflect their emotions, for expressions in Caverna are bought and sold, and must be learned... by everyone except Neverfell, who has, as the title discloses, a face like glass. This face, as one might expect, gets her in (and out) of trouble over the course of the novel.

Although the book is nearly 500 pages long, which is longer than most middle grade novels I have been exposed to, it is eminently readable. In fact, I read the first 125 pages some time ago, and then I finished the rest of the book in one (gung-ho) go. The worldbuilding is immaculate; Caverna feels to me like a place I may have visited, not merely read about. Readers learn so much about it: about its architecture, its many people, its class systems, its politics, its quirks. Neverfell bursts with life and energy, as do her friends and enemies. The magic is not only inventive, but delightful. Consider this description of a particular wine:

"Do you know how long it takes to prepare a perfect Cardlespray Wine?"
[...]
"One hundred and three years. The grapes spoil if they are exposed to loud noises, so they are tended by a silent order of monks, and all the local birds are killed. The fruit can be harvested only at night during the new moon, and must be crushed by the feet of orphans. The barrels are stored deep in the earth, and only the softest, sweetest music is played to them, continually, for over a century. And after all this, the Wine is fit to be drunk...."

Hardinge's writing is lyrical. She is a wordsmith, as skilled in the crafts of character, plot, and setting as the craftsmen of Caverna are in the crafts of cheese, wine, and perfume. A Face Like Glass is a magical read. I highly recommend it.

Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination

My nephew is turning three in a few weeks. This gives me an excellent excuse (not that I really need one!) to buy him new books. Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination is one of the books that I'll be giving him, and for that I must thank Brightly's Iva-Marie Palmer, who recommended it in a recent post. She described it as "the perfect whimsical invitation to worlds of unicorns, dragons, and jackalopes." Well. How could I not order it after that?

It arrived recently and I have to say, I'm very happy with my purchase. In Day Dreamers, ordinary scenes, like a day at a beach or a museum, are juxtaposed with what imagination might make of them. Dragons breathe fire, leviathans rise out of the sea, and jackalopes race across open fields. The book teaches us that imagination can open new worlds, and it promises us that those worlds are always there for us, waiting.

Day Dreamers is, I think, a great way to introduce my nephew to the worlds of magic, fantasy, and dream that I love so much. If you know a toddler and want to introduce him or her to those worlds, this book just might be perfect for you. It also serves as a good reminder of why many of us enjoy fantasy, so even if you don't know a toddler, I recommend you buy it anyway.

Vassa in the Night

I really wanted to love this book. I received it for free from the Tor Books booth at Comic Con, where I also (very briefly) met Sarah Porter. After I read the inside flap, I turned to my sister and told her that Vassa in the Night sounded like my kind-of book. I was especially excited because the synopsis reminded me of Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente, a book that I really enjoyed. I read Vassa in about eight hours, and while there were parts that I liked, I was ultimately disappointed.

Vassa in the Night felt unfinished. I was initially intrigued by the idea of BY's, the convenience store with "a policy of beheading shoplifters." I was on the edge of my seat when Vassa first called the store down, but the location quickly lost its charm. By the end of the book, I wasn't sure why it even took place in a store. I doubt Babs Yagg makes a lot of money with the aforementioned policy, even if her store is the only one open during the very extended night hours. Certainly, Vassa didn't see a lot of customers in her time there. Why, then, does Babs Yagg own and maintain a chain of convenience stores? Considering the setting and the fact that the idea of gentrification is alluded to in the synopsis, I was expecting a critique of that and of capitalism. I didn't notice one. If that had been the case, the store could have been an ideal setting. It was not.

Many of the small cast of characters felt just as replaceable. We are introduced to Vassa's sisters, Chelsea and Stephanie, early on, but they are absent for most of the book. Instead, a character named Tomin is introduced to help Vassa set things right. Personally, I would have preferred to see Stephanie realize the error of her ways and her and Chelsea come to Vassa's rescue. I think their reconciliation could have dovetailed nicely with Vassa's revelation at the end of the book. Instead, the relationship between the sisters is another missed opportunity.

There are more loose threads of perhaps less importance. I still want to know more about Vassa's mother, Zinaida, and about Bea and her relationship with Babs Yagg, too. Vassa in the Night could have been a great book, but it didn't work as well, or do as much, as I hoped it would.

Have you read Vassa in the Night? What did you think?

Legend

Sunday was the last day of Comic Con. My sister and I started the day at a BookCon @ NYCC panel, "Diversity, Class Systems, and Equality in Fantasy." (The panelists were Jennifer Jenkins, Marie Lu, Daniel Jose Older, Lara Elena Donnelly, and Laurent Linn. Ali Kokmen of Barnes & Noble moderated.) We arrived about an hour early, so to help pass the time she gave me one of the books she had brought along to be signed. It was Legend by Marie Lu, and I enjoyed it so much that I finished it by the next morning.

Legend is approximately five years old. It's the first of a trilogy, and the sequels, Prodigy and Champion, have already been released. (I plan on reading them, of course.) I haven't read many dystopias, but I'm familiar with some of the big ones. I found it preferable to Divergent, which I disliked, but I enjoyed the characterization and development more in The Hunger Games.

The main characters, Day and June, are quite alike, even though they come from very different backgrounds. For now, I'm going to chalk that up to what they have in common. (You'll have to read the book to find out what that is.) I'm curious to learn what brought on current events in the novel, and what the world is like outside of Los Angeles. I'm also itching to learn more about the Trials. My sister is reading Prodigy now, and I'll be borrowing it from her when I get the chance.

Before I go, I also want to take the time to thank Marie Lu. Since I finished Legend, I've read another book and gotten more than halfway through a third. I haven't read this much in a very long time, and I'm hoping this is the beginning of a good thing.