Most of my August was spent in the brilliant mind of the British children’s and YA author, Frances Hardinge. I’ve been ploughing through her books and marvelling at the sheer brilliance of her imagination. I believe, like the protagonist of the latest book of hers I read, A Face Like Glass, Hardinge too is a little insane, and that insanity definitely makes her a genius unparalleled in the world of children’s writing. High praise? Yes. And she deserves it. I can’t imagine why the world isn’t talking about her more.
It all started when I need some inspiration to write a horror story for a Scholastic anthology. Horror can be such a versatile and imaginative genre, yet it is riddled with tired, old clichés. While I thoroughly regretted saying yes to attempting a horror story, the other part of me saw it as a challenge to write something “different”. (This might be the right place for a shoutout to Marie and Kate for helping me brainstorm and pin down an idea.) One such inspiration-generating exercises constituted picking up Frances Hardinge’s Cuckoo Song. This is what the blurb said:
When Triss wakes up after an accident, she knows that something is very wrong. She is insatiably hungry; her sister seems scared of her and her parents whisper behind closed doors. She looks through her diary to try to remember, but the pages have been ripped out.
Now tell me that isn’t completely creepy. What I realized from reading Cuckoo Song is that Hardinge is a complete whizz at four things: a) creating atmosphere; b) world building; c) fantastic female protagonists; and d) taking a dig at society. All of this was further underlined by the next two books of hers that I picked up, Fly by Night and A Face Like Glass.
Fly by Night was her first novel, a by-the-seat-of-your-pants fantasy adventure middle-grade novel featuring the irrepressible Mosca Mye, her homicidal gander, Saracen, and a decidedly shady travelling companion called Eponymous Clent. Mosca, all of 12, is a magnet for trouble and tumbles headfirst into political intrigue comprising secret guilds, floating coffeehousees, demented dukes and generally conniving townspeople. Though loosely set on 18th-century England, it is by no means historical fiction.
Next, I picked up A Face Like Glass, which has been my favourite so far. It features another fascinating 12-year-old as the main character, Neverfell, who falls into a vat of cheese as a little girl and is brought up by the reclusive cheesemaker, Grandible. The setting is the underground city of Caverna, where “the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare. They create wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer even as they slit your throat.” Only, the people of Caverna have no expressions; they must, instead, learn Faces to be used depending on the occasion. Neverfell is an exception, for she has a face like glass, completely transparent to whatever she is thinking, and she must wear a mask to keep this horror from her fellow-Cavernans. However, while chasing a rabbit down a hole (yes, really!) Neverfell sets in motion a chain of events that leads to a revolution.
Hardinge has written many more books. Needless to say, they are on my reading list.