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Weaving An Intricate Tale

Premola Ghosh

By Frances Hardinge
Macmillan, New Delhi, 2013, pp. 496, price not stated.


Alice fell down a rabbit’s hole and discov- ered a wonderland! Neverfell fell down into Caverna and found a world of darkness that is strangely exquisite, of sinister characters that have a hundred faces without souls and a grotesque underbelly of faceless poor!   A Face like Glass by Frances Harding is about Neverfell, who fell into a ‘vat of curdling Neverfell’ and was found by Grandible, the cheese master, who makes fantastic cheese in the dark tunnels of Caverna. ‘Dairymancy’ is the word Harding uses.   So fearful is he of the intrigues of the Court and the rivalries of other cheese-makers that he secures himself through innumerable doors and bolts from the others. ‘It is a giant web, Neverfell, full of bright-winged insects. All of them full of their own poison, all entangled, all struggling to live and to kill…’   Neverfell had a Face that expressed all that went on in her heart and mind, transparent like glass. ‘Every time a thought crosses your mind, it crosses your face at speed, like a wild pony.’ As Grandible’s assistant, her secure yet dank life ends with the arrival of Mme Appeline, a Facesmith. The bolts open and Neverfell escapes, coincidentally chasing a white rabbit, to steal back the sliver of Stackfalter Sturton cheese, the piece de resistance that Grandible had created for the banquet hosted by the Grand Steward of Caverna. Mme Appeline had asked for it and Neverfell had smuggled it out for her, until she discovered the terrible intrigues that had pushed Grandible into this reclusive life. A series of adventures brought Neverfell into the lair Maxim Childersin, the master Vinter.   The sinister tale unfolds with her becoming the Taster to the Grand Steward after the Stackfalter Sturton is stolen, audaciously, by the Kleptomancer! Neverfell is the eye of the storm and there are assassination attempts, among them the frightening glisserblinds—‘The slivers themselves were not disturbed by darkness, for they had never known anything else. Theirs was a world of brightly coloured scents, sounds felt through their bellies and the tremors of the ground and the sinuous touch of each other’s scales.’   Finally the threads of a terrible plot come together, as the Caverna begins to shift and rock fissures widen alarmingly. Neverfell did not belong to Caverna, she was the outsider and her impetuousness, the reaching out to people, her trusting humanity making her ...

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