The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock

July 31, 2013

It is possible, though frankly improbable, that some may not be aware that The Glass Republic is a direct sequel to The City’s Son. Note well then this dire warning, herein may lie spoilers for those who have not as yet read book one. Proceed at your own peril.

Pen’s life is all about secrets: the secret of the city’s spirits, deities and monsters her best friend Beth discovered, living just beyond the notice of modern Londoners; the secret of how she got the intricate scars that disfigure her so cruelly – and the most closely guarded secret of all: Parva, her mirror-sister, forged from her reflections in a school bathroom mirror. Pen’s reflected twin is the only girl who really understands her. Then Parva is abducted and Pen makes a terrible argain for the means to track her down. In London-Under-Glass looks are currency, and Pen’s scars make her a rare and valuable commodity. But some in the reflected city will do anything to keep Pen from the secret of what happened to the sister who shared her face.

I hate Tom Pollock. There, I’ve finally said it. I’m sorry if this upsets you, but it’s true. He’s just so bloody good at the whole urban fantasy thing. Damn him and his bucket-loads of talent. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed The City’s Son. It was undeniably entertaining stuff, but it turns out that The Glass Republic is even better. Building successfully on the promise shown by its predecessor, it’s just great from beginning to end.

Parva ‘Pen’ Khan is the focus in The Glass Republic. She suffered physically during the finale of The City’s Son and when events pick up months later, she is still mentally traumatized. Angry at the world and anxious from the lack of control in her life, she yearns for an escape. Pen meets a mirror image of herself, a confidant who she knows she can trust. When her doppelganger disappears suddenly and without warning the opportunity to change her own path is too good to resist.

One of the novels many highlights is the relationship between Pen and Espel, a steeple-jill she meets in alternate London. It is handled nicely, and if the novel has a heart then this is undoubtedly it. The interactions between these two perfectly capture that sense of uncertain awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. Imagine two young people trying to properly understand one another when they don’t fully understand themselves yet.

London-Under-Glass, the city where image is everything, is wonderfully realised. Pollock seamlessly incorporates the ever-evolving landscape of the city we all know into his mirror version. The Shard plays a key role for example. It’s a delight to discover all the little details that are just subtly different from what you would expect.

Last year I said in my review of Pollock’s debut novel that I’d love to see Studio Ghibli create something based on his work. After finishing The Glass Republic that desire has only increased. Like book one, this novel excels when it comes to world-building. I think that’s the thing I most enjoy about Pollock’s writing, his ability to bringing these imagined worlds to life is second to none. Here is a writer who is obviously comfortable letting his daydreams run riot, skewing the ordinary into something extraordinary. The good news is that he allows us readers to tag along for the ride.

Interspersed throughout the main narrative there are chapters featuring Beth Bradley, the main protagonist from The City’s Son. She is going through some changes of her own and needs desperately to find Pen. I’ll be honest, I initially wasn’t sure just how necessary these chapters were. It’s true that they do offer the welcome return of the Chemical Synod and their spokesman Johnny Naptha, but I just wasn’t sure. It turns out that my fears were entirely misplaced. Towards the novel’s end everything suddenly became clear. Beth’s inclusion is absolutely necessary. Her journey is the catalyst that acts as the bridge linking books one and two, and I suspect three, altogether.

As I’d expect from the middle book in a trilogy The Glass Republic ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Our Lady of The Streets, the final book, now promises to be something very special indeed. I’m looking forward to finding out where Pollock’s gothic urban fantasy will eventually lead.

In the last two weeks I’ve read Swords of Good Men and then The Glass Republic. Both are released on the 1st August by Jo Fletcher Books, and both are exceptionally strong additions to their already impressive catalogue. Any self-respecting genre fan needs to be checking out this particular publisher’s books.

The Glass Republic is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available from 1st August 2013.

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