The Glass Republic: Tom Pollack
Imagine living win a confined place enclosed by barbed wore and dealing with experiences that would haunt and change who you are forever. Parva Khan/Pen living in such a place where this teenager, covered with scars and mentally and physically hampered learned that keeping people at arms length might help her to survive. Taunted by others while on the playground, lies that were fabricated, she saw how her face suffered and became damaged and having few friends who did not believe her stories, Pen was caught in the web by them. Imagine a mirror when you see your reflection creates another you on the other side. A mirror-image of herself who she feels is her twin sister in a place called London-Under-Glass and the girl is Parva.
Best friends are few but we meet Beth who seems to have been altered by Johnny Naphtha and his magic and the Chemical Synod, which is Pen’s only hope of getting away from the girls in the school’s bathroom who taunt her over her face and it’s harsh image. Talking to her reflection is part of her salvation. But, Parva gets a text from Beth and soon finds herself not on the other side of the mirror but drowning in blood on the floor of the bathroom. Someone comes to save her in law enforcement and treats her like royalty telling her she will be protected. What happens when she finds herself somewhere else where her deformities are the norm and accepted? It’s a story about prejudice, acceptance, corruption, fear and one young girl hoping to find a place in one of her worlds. Beth is her best friend why would she want to kill her? She withheld the monster within herself but Pen and her new school friends are not what anyone in our society would deem as true friends. Would you want to become part of what the author call the mirrorstocracy? Parva is comprised of millions of reflections and has been caught in between two mirrors but can they both live there and exist?
Parva is another person and where as Pen is different Parva has a unique personality of her own and even got a job but never telling where or what. But, can their worlds be put into place just by looking into a mirror? Parva has disappeared and what is left if her bloody handprint foretelling Pen that she is in need of help but can she use the Chemical Synod to save her and will Beth help and will she find her way to the other place under the glass? What would you do if you could change how the ordinary is viewed? What would happen if you could use this chemical to change windows into doors and open a portal to another world? As Pen deals with her parents at breakfast one morning how did she erase their memories of her? Taking the terms required you won’t believe what happens when she enters the world beyond the glass in the mirror. Parva/Pen are totally different and when Pen finds her way into the life that Parva was living her reaction to herself and the way others treated her allows her to know that she is being dubbed the most beautiful woman in the world. But, just how does she see herself and why are her scars no longer the problem and why is everyone dealing with her in a different way? Seeing this place she realizes that she knows more about it than she thought like the art deco horses, the power station and many of the other homes are familiar to her. How can they appear reflected in the river at her home. Pen meets two bodyguards and her new handmaid named Espel who helps her find her way to beauty when she is going to be presented to many people. Pen is quite and Beth has guts. Espel shares her family life with her and the history of her and her brother as she helps Pen/Parva with her makeup proving that her scars might become an asset.
Everything is not perfect as the author introduces some monsters like the bottle-sized dragon, the sewermander. This story is about acceptance, differences and embracing the person that you are as Pen learns more about Parva, lives her life and comes face to face with secrets that are revealed, her own acceptance of her scars that create a mosaic on her face that she cannot hide and the face of her mirror-sister that no one knows about. Can a reflection of yourself be the only person or image that you can relate to because it understands you? Parva is kidnapped and we see Pen living her life as she tracks her down in London Under Glass, searches for money and realizes that the disfigurement of her face is what is precious to those in this other world. As we revisit Beth who also realizes that she needs to find Parva/Pen and to down under in order to help save her as one man is put on trial, falsely for kidnapping her and his punishment is cruel and inhumane but even he feels it’s well deserved. There is a caste system that the author created between those that are mirror born and those that are natural born in a world called mirrorstocracy. In one world people are seen as born with full, symmetrical faces while in the other world they are called Half-Faces causing them to be treated as pariahs or outcasts. Some as the man that was punished opt to have half of their faces erased and are called half-faces. Some in both worlds pay dearly to have artificial freckles, eyebrows or even scars on their faces so that they are not stigmatized or thought of as outcasts. Symmetry is the face of those there and some want to disfigure themselves to no longer look perfectly symmetrical. Added in we get to know Johnny whose speech pattern is quite different and at times might be hard to understand for some readers.
Other characters make cameo appearances when dealing with Beth as we get to know Pavement Priests and Masonry Men but one of the most striking characters is Espel whose loyalty Pen learns is not where she thinks it should be and it will take time for her to process why she turned against her for a short time. The description that follows when Pen learns about the Earl and what happens when his face pays for the taxes his family cannot afford and what they use from his face and sell is scary and disturbing to say the least. Imagine living with half-faces losing part of your identity and living in fear for the rest. The deaths are horrific and the effects on a person’s mental health are devastating. Espel at times appears to be playing both sides and at times her character flaws come through and her position not solid. Pen then explains how she came through the mirror to find Parva even though everyone thinks she is the countess and has mistaken her for royalty.
How do you explain a mirror or glass republic or world? How do you explain your other self and your ID coming alive and wanting to overpower you? What happens when Espel is taken and her other have takes over and she seems to be falling apart? What happens when so many lose their faces, their identities and have to fight for life but not in a conventional way? Marguerite Case and Senator Case are two dangerous people that want Parva for their own purposes and when she refuses to perform in front of the camera and they realize that Parva is Pen what will they do to stop her from leaving? The ending draws us closer to no solution as the Lady of the Streets is the next installment and begins with Beth and Pen and just where they are you will have to wait and see when you read the end of their trilogy. Issues of self-worth, self-identity, discrimination, differences, acceptance and people who fight everyday just to be accepted for who and what they are just some of what is brought to light by author Tom Pollack.
Fran Lewis: Just reviews/MJ Magazine