Synopsis from goodreads
In Caverna, lies are an art — and everyone's an artist . . .
In the underground city of Caverna the world's most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare — wines that can remove memories, cheeses that can make you hallucinate and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. The people of Caverna are more ordinary, but for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to show (or fake) joy, despair or fear — at a price.
Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a little girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. For Neverfell's emotions are as obvious on her face as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, though entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed ...
Caverna was the dark and strange underground city in which this children’s fantasy story was set. Dark and strange doesn’t even begin to describe the world created by Frances Hardinge, but let me just say that it is absolutely wonderful. I can’t imagine living underground for a few hours, let alone my whole life without any concept of fields or the sun. Like any normal city however, Caverna had a structured class system with the drudges slaving away at the bottom, the elite, and craftsmen creating all manner of weird and wonderful things from euphoric cheeses to new facial expressions and jellies with birds inside. You can’t help but wonder where on earth (or under the earth) Frances Hardinge came up with all the ideas in this book. For younger children it holds a treasure trove of unusual people and exciting adventures.
A lot of mystery surrounded the young Neverfell. Turning up in a vat of Grandible’s cheese, I had no idea what the story might hold for her. In fact when you start reading this book it’s advisable to throw all preconceived ideas and expectations out of the window. What I was most curious about was where she had come from and what was wrong with her face – was she terribly scarred or just terribly ugly? Although I found her sometimes frustrating because of her naivety and lack of suspicion, she always saw the best in people and became determined and much more proactive towards the middle and end of the story.
Besides our protagonist, there is a whole host of secondary characters, each as colourful as the next. I couldn’t ever decide who could be trusted, what they might be scheming and whose side they were actually on. Although they weren’t all trustworthy, they were certainly interesting – the Grand Stewart, ancient ruler of Caverna, only slept with one half of his brain at a time, and each brain hemisphere had its own subset of dedicated followers; the Kleptomancer, thief extraordinaire, would pop up at the most untimely but somehow useful points to cause havoc and completely unexpected plot changes; and the facesmith Madame Appeline was a curious mix of motherly and mysterious with her range of familiar yet tragic faces.
Throughout the story Neverfell found herself tumbling from one impossible adventure to the next, with barely a breath in between. Events came thick and fast, keeping the story fun, entertaining and me guessing what could possibly happen next. Overall, the plot, with its numerous sub plots, was like a jigsaw puzzle – every time something happened you learnt a little bit more, but it wasn’t until the very end that everything came together and the puzzle pieces fit into place. With stories like this, I love trying to guess what has happened or what might happen at the end. But I just couldn’t guess the end of this book, and the final outcome didn’t disappoint the curiosity that had been built throughout.
An exciting fantasy adventure for children and grownups.