The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove | Goodreads
Release Date: June 12, 2014
Published by: Viking Juvenile
Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.
Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.
The Glass Sentence plunges readers into a time and place they will not want to leave, and introduces them to a heroine and hero they will take to their hearts. It is a remarkable debut.
An editorial assistant recommended this book if I "liked good world building and fantasy." That description, and certainly the synopsis, caught my attention, but what solidified my interest in this book were the blurbs from both Megan Whalen Turner, who is one of my favorite authors ever, and Nancy Farmer, whose House of the Scorpion has been on my TBR list for ages. And, friends, I do not regret letting my review schedule go astray for this enchanting middle grade novel that I'll not be forgetting any time soon. (Although maybe it's YA? She's 13. Younger YA or MG - pick your label).
5 Reasons to Read The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove:
1.) Sophia, the protagonist, is absolutely adorable. When I first read that her major flaw was that she lost track of time, I thought of my own experience, now and at her age, and how I once told a friend that I could spend hours staring at walls without realizing how much time had passed. Her flaw is so easy to relate to and is a timeless characteristic, independent of the reader’s generation and rather unique for a children’s book (as opposed to say, x has anger issues or y is much too selfless or z cannot trust anyone/is prejudicial towards the R group). It also 100% fits with the world Grove has created, in which time is fluid across the Ages with the Great Disruption and Sophia’s flaw actually becomes beneficial. Sophia is so fretful about the dangers, like suddenly realizing where she is when night has fallen and how finding her way home then becomes much harder, and yet losing track of time actually allows her to utilize her full potential. There are some children’s books where the protagonist miraculously saves the day without you really understanding *why* that protagonist is so special, why only she can achieve this task. The Glass Sentence is not one of them. The way Grove handles Sophia’s character growth and the perception of her flaw is masterful, leading to a wonderful universal theme about making of time what you want. Sophia is a strong, smart, self-dependent heroine who I’ll gladly follow into the sequel.
2.) The magic system and world-building are INCREDIBLE. They are, by far, one of the most original and imaginative that I’ve read in years. For those of you who loved The Grisha Trilogy or The Bone Season for their unique magic systems, you will fall in love with the map magic presented in The Glass Sentence. (Think that meets the MG adventure of Harry Potter and you will have this book). There is something to please every type of fantasy fan: soft magic like the interesting cultural phenomenon of “wings” and tree legs and the like on various people, and new legendary creatures like the faceless wraith Lachrima, whose histories and creations are indeed well developed and explored; and hard magic as found in the system of maps – how they’re created, what each type of map can show, the legends behind map-making and the history of map-making as related to the Great Disruption. Grove writes with a historian’s detail about the different cultures that resulted from the Great Disruption, about the geography of the land now that Ages of all kind can intermingle, about the borders and rituals and habits that people have adapted to survive after a terrifying near-apocalyptic but mostly life changing event. Plus… time travel! Normally I am not a huge fan of time-travel because it’s pseudo science fiction, but in this fantastical, well-developed world, where the culture of time itself is well-developed (e.g. people all wear “lifewatches” as a record of their citizenship), the time traveling aspect particularly stands out… and is just amazing. *insert dreamy sigh*
3.) As well as allowing for pure escapism and flights of fantasy, The Glass Sentence relates to our modern times quite well. Sometime last year I was watching Teen Jeopardy and I was so disappointed when none of the contestants knew what The Patriot Act was. Yes, one of the clues involved one of our most xenophobic laws, and yet… it wasn’t a thing of their generation anymore. And thus I was so, so glad to see Grove nod towards that with a heavy statement in the beginning against xenophobia of all kinds (though, here, it seemed particularly well suited for a discussion on Mexican immigration and the Patriot Act; the “Patriot Plan” involves closing the New Occident aka east-coast-U.S. borders to all Ages/the dirty, dangerous immigrating foreigners). I was also rather intrigued by Grove’s version of the alternate U.S. government in which you have to pay for your time to speak to Congress; is that not another nice mirror of our world yet so cleverly fitting within hers?
4.) The platonic friendship – yet maybe more later – between Theo and Sophia. Another reviewer, I can’t remember who, once said that she liked MG a lot more than YA sometimes because MG naturally had to put friendship at the forefront, before romance. And that’s exactly what the Theo/Sophia relationship does. I love that it’s a hero/heroine pair, that they complement each other and learn to become friends along a strange journey where neither of them knows who to trust or what will come next. That *this* is the priority. And I love that Grove has planted just enough there between the two young characters for their friendship to evolve with time should that come naturally. For now, the platonic relationship is 100% awesome, and maybe Grove won’t go the way of romance, and that would work quite well too. Whatever happens, the way their relationship is portrayed here is quite compelling and would, I imagine, to both MG readers (tired of the YA romance) and YA readers searching for that element of potential romance.
5.) Grove’s writing is so easy to read and has very little extraneous, non-plot-world-character-etc. detail. Though the book was blurbed by Megan Whalen Turner, it’s not perhaps as tight as the Queen’s Thief series… but you do get the sense that everything is just as controlled. The amount of detail in the world and the back stories for each character are enough to propel you through the plot of this first book and hint at both the series plot and the plot of the sequel. Plus just how much more there is left to be explored in this world and of these characters. As I said before, Grove also writes with a historian’s eye, so the details in this book really make the landscape and characters easy to imagine even for me, a non-visual reader. This is the sort of writing perfectly suited for the expansive world-building, the occasional cinematic action scenes, and a universal audience, yet targeting MG readers at its forefront.
Be patient. The Glass Sentence does take a while to get started. That’s because it needs to lay the foundation of the world before the adventure begins. Also, this is just personal preference – the characters here are definitely their own, unique and witty and full of their own stories, but I found myself wanting a bit more from them? I’m not quite in love just yet, but given how deft Grove has proven with everything else, I have no trouble believing that I will be 100% caught and snared in the sequel and the trilogy finale. Highly, highly recommended; a wonder of imagination, brimming with colorful characters, cultures, and scenery as well as an engaging heroine and adventure story.