Parva Through the Looking Glass – The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock

glass

It appeared he’d gone to the same school of crisis management as her mother, and learned the same universal strategy: combine heat, sugar and dairy products in the magnitude required until evil is defeated. 

The Glass Republic confirms two things. Tom Pollock is a man with ideas to burn, and is a writer with long and glittering career ahead. There is an obvious comparison with Neil Gaiman, and it wouldn’t surprise me if, in twenty five years time, readers mention Pollock in the same hallowed tones as they do the creator of Neverwhere and American Gods.

This novel is a direct sequel to The City’s Son, a novel that I enjoyed it parts, but overall found a bit confusing. There were so many great ideas jammering for attention, it was hard to focus on which ones were important. It was not unlike tea-time in the Brooks household. I couldn’t help feel that the reader would have been better served by fewer ideas explored in more detail.

I am thrilled to report that The Glass Republic contains fewer ideas and explores them in greater detail. In this book we go behind the mirror to London-Under-Glass, a mythical world that exists in our reflections. The resulting novel, is a beautiful urban fable.

The Glass Republic mostly follows Pen, some time after the events of the first novel.  Her scars have left her self-conscious and she now spends most of her days, hiding in a disused part of the school, staring at her reflection in the mirror. Or rather communing with it, for Pen’s reflection is Parva; Pen’s mirror-self, and denizen of London-Under-Glass. When Parva disappears, leaving only a bloody hand print, Pen knows she must enter the reflected world and rescue her.  This brings about a double-edged deal with another of Pollock’s finest creations from book one, Johnny Naphtha and the Chemical Synod. With their dubious assistance, Pen finds her way into the mirrorscape and sets about finding her mirror twin.

Pollock’s inverted world is beautifully constructed. From the elongated, distorted versions of buildings alongside the Thames, to the inverted, subverted idea of beauty. In the mirror world, symmetry is ugly, and imperfections sought after. With her scars, Pen is the most beautiful woman in the world. Pollock uses this inversion, to look at self-image, esteem and the malleable nature of beauty.  The divided world of Mirrostocrats and half-faces can even be seen as metaphor for the Britain’s ruling elite and the underclass it seems to be trying so hard to create.

“You don’t matter. You don’t count.” That’s how their power works, by convincing people they can’t do anything about it.

As in the first novel, characterisation is excellent. The strength and determination of Pen, make her wholly likeable. Above the mirror, in the real-world Beth, is undergoing something of an existential crisis, and this too adds something to her character. The villain of the piece is the implacable Senator Case, the leader of this reflected London. She is a powerful charismatic ruler, very reminiscent of Mayor Prentiss from Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy.

Pen discovers her doppelgänger is something of a celebrity in London-Under-Glass, and using this power she tries to gain a lead on Parva’s whereabouts. As she scratches the silvered-surface, she discovers things are very wrong in the city.  Terrorist group The Faceless, are responsible for many atrocities, but perhaps there is validity to their concerns? Together with her new lady-in-waiting, Espel, another strong character, Pen tries to understand just what is wrong in the reflected city. A time-limit imposed by her deal with the Chemical Synod, gives the novel urgency and as each layer of truth is revealed Pen becomes more desperate to complete her mission.

The plot of the book is intriguing and full of excitement, and the novel builds to an exciting crescendo. This being the middle novel of a trilogy, things are left wide open for the final book in series, but without too many loose threads hanging.  The central story is resolved, but there are plenty of things for Beth and Pen to worry about in the future. The Glass Republic, is everything I wanted the City’s Son to be. It marks Tom Pollock as writer to watch, and the Skyscraper Throne trilogy as a must read-series. Can’t wait for volume three ‘Our Lady of the Streets’

Many thanks to Tom and Jo Fletcher Books for sending me a copy of this book. Tom can be found on Twitter as @tomhpollock, and is well worth a follow. Particularly if you like puns… 

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