We are back with part 16 of our #SkyscraperThroneReRead. This week we are looking at chapters 5 – 8 of The Glass Republic. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of the chapters below or with #SkyscraperthroneReRead.
This chapter opens with, I think, one of the most horrifying scenes of the entire trilogy, exemplifying the cruelty children can wreak on other children.
Over her shoulder, Pen hears a voice calling her name and she immediately realises who it is: Gwen. Something in the pit of her stomach warns her that Gwen is not there to exchange pleasantries, and when Pen turns she finds that the entirety of her maths class surround her, watching. They accuse Pen of lying about her abuse at the hands of Dr Salt and about her scars, but when she refuses to take her story back, Trudi threatens her with a lighter. ‘Do it!’ are the words that come from the back of the crowd, and just like that, Trudi sets Pen’s hijab alight. Pen screams and tears off her hijab; the crowd stares numbly at the horrifying extent of her scars. Pen pushes her way through the crowd and runs to the abandoned school bathrooms where someone waits for her.
Except Parva – her mirror-sister – isn’t there.
What is there is a bloody puddle reflected in the mirror, that doesn’t appear on the actual floor, and a trail of bright red liquid across the reflected bathroom.
Pen is caught by her English teacher, screaming her name into the mirror, and when that happens, she runs.
Pen has run into central London; she needs to find a way to get into the city behind the mirrors, but the only way she can think of to do it, is to find the Chemical Synod. But they bargain dangerously, it cost Filius his life – it wouldn’t be worth it, would it?
Some time later she walks into their factory – and a living nightmare. The synod are brewing scotophobia, the fear of the dark, and dark, oily creatures snap at her heels as she runs across the cement floor. Only to be halted – and saved from a messy death – by Johnny Naptha. Now Pen owes them.
She needs to pay a price, not only for that, but for her request: she wants Johnny to give her something to get her into London-Under-Glass.
They take her to a room which contains ‘Ssselfishnesss, greed, sssyrupy sssentiment, commemorationss of a few fumbling firsst romancess, an irrational love of peanut butter and an equally inssane loathing of arachnidss’ – he pointed at individual lights as he spoke, naming constellations on the wall. ‘Courage, compossure, a confection of courtesssy. Ssentiensse.’ In other words, their best synthesis of a mind. They are only missing a complete set of adult memories of a child growing up. When Pen asks what it’s for, she is told: ‘To patch the perceptionss of a prissoner – a client whose cognition iss sso corroded by hisss long languisshing’. [This is important, you might want to remember it]
In other words, they want Pen’s parents’ memories of her – which will inevitably result in them forgetting her.
Eventually, Pen agrees and they make a bargain: once Johnny has her parents’ memories, she will have 21 days to get behind the mirror and bring them back something more valuable, or their memories of her are forfeit and she can never go back home.
Over in Brixton, the Blankleit market is in full swing, and Beth moves through the crowd, searching for Candleman. Finding him, he tells her she needs to watch out for Ezekiel – the pavement priest who believes she is a blasphemous deceiver for exposing the death of Mater Viae. Then Candleman hands her a bag of connected lightbulbs; a web built to restore the memories of individual pavement priests. The payment Beth must give him is a Sewermander, which sits on her shoulder. He jumps back in fear: Sewermanders are wild creatures controlled only by Mater Viae herself, how is it doing what Beth says?
Then Ezekiel bursts into alley with an army of pavement priests. Beth fights and her hood comes away from her head. Her face is exposed, and so is the church spire tooth that has erupted from her gums. The pavement priests stop their attack – Beth now has the smile of Mater Viae.
Back in the Khan household in the dead of night, Pen is busy erasing herself from her parents’ life; removing every trace of her. She hides everything in the cellar then goes for a last breakfast with her parents’.
Pen offers them a second cup of tea, into which she pours a little of the silvery liquid Johnny gave her. They drink and for a moment pause, then Pen decants the liquid from their tea back into a container and assumes her new identity – a schoolchild conducting a geographical survey. She asks a couple of questions, to ensure her parents have forgotten her and then leaves the house. As she does so, Johnny comes to collect and, without looking back, she hands the flasks to him.
She has 21 days and the clock is ticking . . .
Thanks for coming back and don’t forget to let us know what you thought of chapters 5 – 8 below or with #SkyscraperThroneReRead on twitter. Head over to Speculating on SpecFic next week for part 17 of the #SkyscraperThroneReRead courtesy of @speculatef.