My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The second in Pollock’s inventive urban fantasy series plays with two tropes, fusing them together. He mixes the magic/hidden London trope with the mirror world idea. The novel takes place after the events of THE CITY’S SON, mostly focusing on Parva (Pen) Khan, who was victimized by a living spirit of barbed wire, called the Wire Mistress. Pen’s face has been deformed by scars and she’s had to undergo extensive reconstructive surgery. She also suffers from a smidge of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When she returns to her high school, she is subject of gossip which is exacerbated by the fact that she can’t very well tell everyone about the hidden/magic part of London of streetlamp spirits, living statues and garbage goddesses. On top of that, Pen is responsible for the firing of a popular teacher who propositioned her. Pen’s only real friend is her mirror-sister, who lives behind the glass, in London-Under-Glass.
When Pen’s mirror-sister goes missing, she goes to the Glass Republic to figure out the mystery. The world there is ruled by a rigid caste system, with full-faced mirrostocrats lord over the half-faced populace. Pen’s mirror-sister is a member of the Mirrostocracy, due to a lottery that raises one member of the lower class into their ranks. That Parva Khan is known as the Face of the Lottery. Pen finds herself enmeshed in a complex political scandal involving slick senators and a revolutionary group called the Faceless.
The world building is spectacular. Pollock has a thing for urban decay, and he works it into magic system. It’s a little bit Neil Gaiman (Neverwhere) and a little bit China Mieville, particularly the Bas-Lag novels. Pen is also a great character, even more appealing than Beth in the first novel. Pen is vulnerable and strong in equal measure. She’s also a sexually-fluid hijab-wearing Muslim. (Representation matters!)
The only weak points are the scenes with Beth—the hero of the first novel. They felt a little building-blocky. But Pollock’s rusting, rotting imagery makes those scenes flow.