See my review of this book, and many more, at Tales from the Great East Road.
Parva “Pen” Khan has survived a brutal attack from a living mass of barbed wire. Well, if you can call this surviving. Covered in scars all over her body, with a face that people recoil from, Pen is trying to get her normal life back. But it’s not easy: with her best friend Beth turned into a living embodiment of the city of itself, pressure from her fellow classmates to tell them what happened, feeling that her face is no longer her own, and the guilt of causing her parents pain. The only person who understands Pen is Parva, her mirror sister who lives in the reflected city of London-Under-Glass.
But when Parva is kidnapped, Pen knows that she must find her, whatever it takes. Striking a deal with the Chemical Synod, Pen trades her parents’ memories of her for entrance to London-Uner-Glass, where looks are currency and her sister is considered the most beautiful woman in the world. Posing as Parva, Pen is caught in a world of politics and terrorists, where beauty is everything.
The Skyscraper Throne is a series that takes the genre Urban Fantasy to a new level – the city of London literally comes alive in these books. Descriptions of living street lights who communicate by flashing light, Pavement Priests who are trapped in stone, creepy men covered in oil who collect and experiment with human emotions and memories (to name a few), are all fascinating and original, building a truly unique picture of the modern world. The new society of London-Under-Glass introduced in The Glass Republic mirrors and distorts the idea of beauty being connected to self worth that is so prominent in our culture, much like the way the river Themes reflects the city itself. The use of half-faces and the terrorists know as the Faceless are both creepy but sympathetic, showing the flaws in both worlds and our obsession as people with looks. But as great as the world build is, it is nothing when compared to the characters, especially the protagonist Pen.
It’s great to see the return of Beth, the hero of the first book The City’s Son, who is still just as brilliant. Her change into a daughter of the streets continues and her struggles with this transition, and the sacrifices made by Fil, the boy she loved, are realistic and moving. There is the introduction of another great character, Espel, a steeplejill with half a true face and half a mirror. She is in many ways Pen’s opposite, a beautiful girl who braves the hights of the skyscrapers in London-Under-Glass to clear it of raining brick and concrete in an almost reckless way, but she shares a lot of the same fears and self doubts as Pen. Then there is Pen herself – a character so raw with pain, anger, and fear, but so willing to throw her own safety to the wind to save the people she loves. Her struggles made me want to cry: watching her fight for a normal life any way she can whilst living with a ruined face, bullying from her schoolmates, and knowing that the teacher who abused her may be going free. All this doesn’t stop her, as she just keeps telling herself that “It’s still all you, Pen” – and it is. Pen is a truly amazing character, who does gain back part of her control over her body after her trauma. I love Pen with a passion.
The reason I’ve rated The Glass Republic 4.5 and not 5 stars? The cliffhanger ending was completely unexpected and shocked me, as I didn’t realise this series was in fact a trilogy. Waiting for the next book may actually kill me! What else can I say but read it, and read it now.