Monday, October 6, 2014

The Glass Sentence

The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is an ambitious fantasy with an intriguing concept.

She has only seen the world through maps. She had no idea they were so dangerous.
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 is pretty much all about the world building. The world is complex. Complex in a way that the author felt the need to be extraordinarily detailed in its description. In fact, I found myself getting lost in the details and explanations and long dialogues about how things work. Not lost in a good way. I confess it. I was bored in several places. The world is fascinating in many ways. I was immediately intrigued by the Great Disruption and how it created different eras in different parts of the world so that it was difficult for international cooperation to work because no one was in the same era. The idea of all the different sorts of maps and their powers and legends was a bit much though as were the lessons full of dialogue where they were explained. So much exposition. So much info-dumping. Both of these things are somewhat necessary in a large scope fantasy world, but then again an author with a deft hand can convey reams of information with few words. Megan Whalen Turner has spoiled me I suppose, but I have little patience for books where the author feels their knowledge of the world and all of its small parts is so important that every minute detail needs to be shared with the reader in order for them to understand the story. I skimmed a lot here and got the story just fine.

The plot minus all the exposition is a good one if a tad predictable. (Predictable for an adult reader, probably not for child readers.) The politics, the mystery, the journey, and the working with maps is all a lot of fun. There are creepy bad guys, helpful pirates, and hidden things that must be found. It is a story where the kids take center stage without grown up supervision or interference for most of it. It would have been thoroughly engrossing if not for the details. Oh so many details.

What suffered the most from all those world building details? The character development. This is what made the book only average for me. I may have overlooked the amount of world building minutia if the characters had managed to crawl out from under it to shine. But for me they didn't. They are your basic caricatures of fantasy characters seen a thousand times with little development an no arcs. 

I can see myself recommending this book to patient kids I know who love fantasy with intricate world-building, but it fell far short of being a favorite of mine. In a year where so many amazing MG fantasy novels came out and told amazing stories within fewer pages, this can't stand out for me. 

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