The Glass Republic

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The City’s Son. You can read my review of this novel [here].

The Glass Republic was written by Tom Pollock and first published in 2013. It is an urban fantasy story that focuses on a teenage girl’s adventure into a dystopian mirror world. The novel forms the second part of the The Skyscraper Throne series and carries on from where The City’s Son (2012) left off, so you need to read the books in sequence to fully appreciate what’s going on. The final instalment of the series – Our Lady of the Streets – was published in 2014.

Parva Khan, known as Pen to her friends, has returned to school a changed person. Her torture at the coils of the Wire Mistress has left her physically and mentally scarred and, without Beth for company, she no longer has anyone to hang around with. Her only friend is Parva – the girl in the mirror. Parva was created when Pen’s reflection was caught between two mirrors and has made a life for herself in the world behind the mirror, London-Under-Glass.

However, Parva’s life is shrouded in mystery. She hints to Pen that she has gotten a job somewhere but then disappears without a trace, leaving behind unmistakable signs of a struggle. Pen knows that she has to find some way to get to London-Under-Glass to save her sister but no one has ever travelled through the mirrors before. The only creatures that know how are the Chemical Synod and Pen knows from experience that their price could be more than she can pay.

Meanwhile, Beth is undergoing some strange changes. When her teeth start to turn into church spires, she realises that the transformation that Fil bought for her has not completed itself. However, some of Beth’s allies are concerned about what she is becoming. The similarities between her and Mater Viae are unmistakable, and there are those who do not wish for Our Lady of the Streets to return…

When I first read The City’s Son, I was absolutely blown away. I completely fell in love with Pollock’s London and, to this day, my other half and I still refer to St Paul’s Cathedral as Lord Reach’s Kingdom. The way that the city’s fantastical underbelly is portrayed in this series is truly like nothing that I have ever read before. It’s like a modern fable, filled with dragons made of sewer gas, societies of living street lamps and every-changing trash elementals. While other books have anthropomorphised areas of London, The Skyscraper Throne embodies the small things that make up the city. While the spirit of old London is dead, she lives on in electricity, bricks and mortar. And that’s breath-taking.

However, this time around a lot more time is spent fleshing out London’s flip-side as Pen ventures into London-Under-Glass. While this world was mentioned in The City’s Son, this is the first time that we have truly discovered what this reflected world is truly like. The plot of The Glass Republic takes two paths, following Pen’s journey on one side and Beth’s on the other. However, somewhat disappointingly, we spend a lot more time with Pen. While Beth’s story was the primary focus of The City’s Son, this time around it has definitely been relegated to a B-plot. This was certainly disappointing, as I did really grow attached to Beth and wanted to read more about her continuing adventures.

While Pen’s story did eventually draw me in, I found that I had to stick with it. London-Under-Glass is quite different to how it appeared in The City’s Son. As Pen explores the mirror world, she quickly finds herself drawn into a deeply political story. Here, the novel feels much more dystopian. London-Under-Glass is a world where symmetry is deemed ugly and the asymmetrical “Mirrorstocracy” routinely oppress the less fortunate “half-faces”. It’s a compelling idea but I did feel as though unfortunately it lacked depth in places.

I really can’t talk about this much here without spoiling the story, as the secrets that lurk beneath the Shard are actually quite unexpected, but the biggest disappointment for me was the novel’s lack of focus. Pen heads to London-Under-Glass with one goal in mind – to rescue Parva. Unfortunately, this goal slowly fades from the novel as Pen gets caught up in other events. Yet this isn’t the only plot point to fade from importance. One of the early horrors that Pen discovers is that the villains in London-Under-Glass possess the ability to steal faces. Unfortunately, this is only used once for shock value and never really comes up again after this.

The Glass Republic also ends on a pretty abrupt and game-changing cliff hanger. While I’m obviously not going to spoil this for you here, I will just say that I found it to be a little cheap. It just broke off the story on a particularly dramatic moment, leaving the fate of a number of major characters hanging in the balance. On the whole, it just served to make this book feel like even more of a “middle novel”. Its primary purpose was to draw the lines and move the characters into the positions that they need to be in for the final book.

In terms of characterisation, Pen’s development was everything that I hoped for and more. While I grew really attached to her in The City’s Son, I was floored by the amount of development that she receives in this book. She is incredibly complex and also a refreshingly diverse character for a young adult novel. She is a person of colour, hijab wearing Muslim, LGBT member and has facial disfigurements. She truly went from strength to strength as the story progressed, confronting her fears and building an identity for herself away from Beth. I also got very invested in her relationship with Espel. While the seeds of this are obvious from early on, their attraction is still slow burning and by the end I really rooted for them as a couple.

However, I did feel that more development should have been given to Beth. Her evolution mostly occurs off-page and we don’t really discover what this means for her. While I do expect that this will be the focus of the final book, especially given how The Glass Republic ends, it did seem pretty weak to relegate her to a secondary cast member in this story. I mean, the climax of The City’s Son left her as the slayer of Lord Reach and arguably the most important person in all of London. Surely that means something.

There also wasn’t really any development for the other secondary cast members. While Pen did become acquainted with a few new faces in London-Under-Glass, only Espel was given any page time. The rest just really come and go, giving us no real time to learn about them or their motivations. The old cast also receive similar lip-service. Beth does visit some old faces but the only scene of note is really the one where she is reunited with Gutterglass. None of the rest really amount to anything in this story.

Anyhow, I think that’s probably all that I have to say. All in all, The Glass Republic is a bit of a middle novel and therefore does not contain a lot of closure. However, despite its flaws, it is still a very compelling story that contains some beautiful world-building and a pair of strong female protagonists. I am still loving this series and look forward to seeing how it will all conclude in Our Lady of the Streets.

The Glass Republic can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Our Lady of the Streets | Arkham Reviews

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