Tom Pollock – The Glass Republic

tompollock-theglassrepublicPen’s life revolves around secrets: the secrets behind her three-month disappearance from school last winter, the secret cause of the scars that mar her face, and, most secret of all, her twin sister Parva: her doppelgänger in London-Under-Glass, the city behind the mirrors.

Pen’s trying to forget Reach, Filius Viae and the Wire Mistress and get back to a normal life, but when Parva vanishes, she has no choice but to seek out London’s stranger side. And when Pen journeys through the mirror, she finds a world where scars will make you beautiful and criminals will kill you for your face – a world in which Pen’s sister was keeping secrets of her own. . .

Last year I reviewed Pollock’s debut The City’s Son, the first book in his The Skyscraper Throne trilogy, and I completely adored it. I loved it so much I had a hard time reviewing it without gushing. And while I love The Glass Republic just as much and its protagonist Pen is amazing, there were some things that bothered me. These were mostly to do with the ending and some smaller details, as the plot is just amazing and I was completely drawn back into Pollock’s very creative world. 

One of the biggest draws of The City’s Son was its magical, strangely weird, and sometimes quite scary London. Pollock created an enchanting stage for his story and he does no less this time around. London-Under-Glass is a wonderful invention, being nothing less than the land behind the looking glass. But instead of small, innocent girls falling through the looking glass into an enchanted world, behind this mirror lies a distorted reflection of our own, but a world with completely different values and a completely different society. I loved the class differences between the mirrorstocracy and the lesser-reflected. It’s an interesting commentary of the fluidity of what is considered beautiful and the absurd lengths people will go to, to become what is considered beautiful. The way the half-faces are fitted with and id, an inverse depictor, which makes their face complete by reflecting the other half, creating totally symmetrical faces was inventive and at the same time incredibly creepy, especially once we see what the id really is. By the way, id? That is a great pun. Well-played, Mr Pollock, well-played.

Pen is a wonderfully compelling protagonist. Recovering from her ordeal in The City’s Son has been hard and she’s having to learn to deal with what has happened in the previous book. We witness her employing different methods of dealing with her altered appearance. From clowning about at school coming up with ever more off-the-wall explanations of what happened to her face, to endless texting with Beth, to burgeoning case of anorexia. What I did appreciate was that Pollock makes Pen’s anorexic behaviour about control, instead of making it about being thin, which is a mistake that is often made. However, Pen’s problems with it just kind of fade away; her anorexia isn’t really acknowledged or resolved, it just seems to disappear, which bothered me, though Pollock might still address it in the next book. But Pen’s biggest solace and support is her mirror-sister, Parva. A mirror-born full reflection existing in London-Under-Glass, Parva knows everything Pen’s gone through and understands her better than anyone else. So it’s no wonder she does whatever she can to get her back. Pen’s journey into London-Under-Glass and her discovery of the life Parva leads and the decisions she makes due to that understanding are fascinating and heart-breaking and show a growth in Pen’s character that is fantastic.

While there are several great supporting characters in the book – both new, Edward, Parva, Senator Case, and the Faceless, and old, Beth, Gutterglass, Johnny Naphtha, and the Pavement Priest to name a few – the most important supporting character and new-comer was Espel. A half-faced steeplejill, whom Pen rescues from falling to her death during a slate-storm, I loved her pluckiness, her guts, and her loyalty. I also loved that she is the book’s love interest, without any fuss or fanfare. Pen does wonder how she’ll tell her parents she’s in love with a girl, as their Muslim faith means they won’t actually be very thrilled about it, but it happens anyway and it happens naturally and I thought it was awesome. I’m still rooting for Pen and Espel to actually be together and be happy.

My one problem with The Glass Republic was the fact that there are many unresolved issues at the end of this book. This is the only way in which this book suffers from middle book syndrome; you could read this book without having read The City’s Son, which was relatively self-contained as well, and only miss some of the references, but the story clearly isn’t over at the end of this book. Too many questions remain unanswered and the return of a major player to the stage leaves the book on a cliff-hanger that makes me wish for the next book yesterday as I want to know what happens.

Still, I guess if my biggest complaint is that I want more and I want it now, that means that The Glass Republic is a fantastic book. It’s the kind of book that makes me wish I had more teens in my life so I could make them read it and make them fall in love with the genre that is so dear to my heart. The Glass Republic is one of the best examples of urban fantasy for young adults, but it is the sort of urban fantasy that adults can – and will – love just as much. Like its predecessor, The Glass Republic is a strong contender for my best-of-the-year list come December.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.