The Glass Republic is the second of The Skyscraper Throne trilogy and so do be warned that the review below may include spoilers for the first, the marvellous The City’s Son (review here).
Pen is scarred from recent events, not just physically but psychologically. With closest friend Beth now more absent than present, Pen is back at school on her own, having to endure the curious eyes and unkind words of the bullies. Her scars make Pen stand out, fascinating her peers, but it’s not kindness that draws the bullies to her and so Pen takes comfort in solitude, finding secret places of the school, where she can be calm. One such place has a mirror and it is through these mirrors that Pen is thrown back into the fantastical London that so nearly killed her. Pen’s reflection is alive, caught in London-Under-Glass, the other London, reflected through the mirrors, and the reflection (Parva) has become a sister to her original. One day Pen must watch as Parva is dragged out of her view, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the reflected floor. There is nothing that Pen won’t do, or bargain, to follow Parva through the mirror into this other London, to save her sister, whatever the cost. The price that she must pay for the potion to cross worlds is heartbreaking.
The Glass Republic is the sequel to The City’s Son but despite its many connections it is such an ingeniously different and original novel. For much of this second book, we are with Pen in City-Under-Glass giving author Tom Pollock the perfect opportunity to let his wonderful imagination soar. From Pen’s dramatic arrival in the distorted city, to the rich and detailed building of a world populated by the strangest of people, to the thoroughly exciting and tense conclusion, setting the stage perfectly for the trilogy’s finale, The Glass Republic is magnificent.
There are plenty of jaw-dropping moments, as in the first novel, and the descriptions of the stretched, elongated London with its half-faced or no-faced inhabitants are memorable – the ids that are used to complete the missing sections of a reflected face manage to be both cleverly horrible and tragic at the same time. But also just like The City’s Son, there is much that is painful. The relationship between Pen and her steeplejill is beautiful and delicate, as is the character of Pen herself. There are old favourites to enjoy here, too, my personal favourites being the understandably bad tempered stone priests
There is far less Beth than Pen in The Glass Republic but it doesn’t matter – these novels complement each other as they prepare for Our Lady of the Streets and the conclusion. The perspectives continue to shift and the themes continue to be powerful – perceptions of beauty and ugliness, fitting in, love, desire and fear, loss, parenthood and sisterhood. Again these are all themes that would speak to a teenage readership but they speak just as loudly to me. Tom Pollock should be proud of what he’s achieved with Pen. Middle novels aren’t always the easiest to read in a trilogy but Tom has done great things here, creating a novel that is at least the equal of its predecessor while pointing clearly and most tantalisingly towards the conclusion. That conclusion, Our Lady of the Streets, is published on 7 August – this is the perfect time to catch up with this outstanding sequence of novels.
The City’s Son (The Skyscraper Throne 1)