This week @Pallekenl hosts the #SkyscraperThroneReRead, looking at chapters 17-20 of The Glass Republic. Don’t forget to share your thoughts on the chapters on twitter with #SkyscraperThroneReRead or below.
As in the previous posts I hosted there will be spoilers galore. If you haven’t read these books before and want to remain unspoiled, best beware, as the gentleman says: SPOILER ALERT!!
The Story So Far . . .
The book starts about three months after the events related in The City’s Son. After months of healing and re-constructive surgery, Pen has returned to Frostfield High, with scars but without her best friend Beth. Pen is lonely at school, but has found refuge in a closed-up school building, where she’s also found her only source of comfort. Her mirror sister Parva. Parva lives in London-Under-Glass and is identical to Pen in looks, but quite different in many other ways. Still Parva knows exactly what Pen has been through and as such is the best ear to pour her problems into. When Parva disappears, Pen needs to find her, to make sure she’s safe. Desperate she goes to the Chemical Synod to bargain for a way beyond the mirror. She succeeds but at a steep price: her parents’ memories of her growing-up, unless she returns within 21 days with a unique artefact from behind the mirror. Once Pen steps through the mirror, she discovers that Parva is her mirror image and so is the way she is regarded. Parva is part of the mirrorstocracy and the face of the Looking Glass Lottery, the most beautiful woman in the world. To say Pen is shocked is an understatement. She’s also told that she’ll need to be ready for a photo shoot with a few days. Pen wanders around her rooms, trying to wrap her head around things, when she sees weather sweeps on the roofs of the buildings around her and one of them is swept off the roof by slate hail. Pen rescues the girl, called Espel, and in a desperate move to get some explanations and to keep Espel safe she makes Espel her lady-in-waiting.
Meanwhile Beth is roaming London, familiarising herself with her city, catching a sewermander, trying to get the baby Pavement Priest that was Filius his memories back, and discovering that she might have gotten more in Fil’s bargain than they might have expected as she’s developing a true spire-toothed smile. This creates a somewhat tense situation with the Pavement Priests both the true believers and the apostates.
‘That maybe how I see myself is how I really am—‘ Pen said before she thought.’
At the start of chapter 17, Pen is attempting to do her own make-up in preparation for the photo shoot. Having been told that the pictures will be seen by three million people she wonders how Parva dealt with it all. ‘It felt like her lungs were packed with barbed wire.’ Pen’s descriptions of physical pain or displeasure are often marked by references to barbed wire, a way in which Pollock reminds us how completely pervasive Pen’s trauma is. Espel offers to help Pen with her make-up, putting her at ease by sharing a childhood memory of her and her brother with her. Her brother used to tell her that make-up is a mask that allows you to hide your true self, except from those who know how to see you. We get more family history from Espel, which also explains more about the realities of life for the half-faced in which the central tenet seems to be that no reflection comes for free.
Pen is called down for the shoot and Edward warns Pen about being rumoured to be involved with Espel, a half-face, as it’ll be dangerous for both of them but especially Espel. Pen almost puts him straight, but stops herself as it’s the perfect reason to keep Espel close and have her explain things. While they wait for the photographer Beau Driyard, Pen notices Espel is more twitchy than usual and Espel explains she’s excited to see the Goutierre Device, the machine at the heart of the lottery. Pen suggests going ahead and having a closer look as they wait. They nonchalantly wander into the hall and into chapter 18.
‘I think the word people use is wow, Countess.’
The Hall of Beauty is huge, but dominated by the Goutierre Device. Espel explains how the Device and the Lottery work; essentially the machine is connected to every reflective surface is London-Under-Glass. It can collect and match all the stray facial features that are brought into Mirror City through the face rain, an element of precipetecture. Espel knows so much about it as she’s into mirror meteorology, which this is part of.
They are interrupted by Beau Driyard, who turns out to be something different indeed. A half-face, he’s spent a fortune on augmenting his id and plays off the division by dressing each of his halves differently. He completely overwhelms Pen, spouts off about three different photo ideas in under a minute and shows Pen the dress she is to wear. When Pen opens the bag, her heart almost stops: the dress is designed to look like barbed wire. Parva has told the truth about her scars, but those Under-Glass think it is a metaphor or a tale. Shaken, Pen retreats to the dressing room with Espel. She starts to undress and realizes Espel is watching. She hesitates, and then scolds herself for fearing this after all she’s been through. Once the dress is on, Pen feels exposed, Es is almost speechless, and once Pen returns to the hall people are staring. When they are about to start shooting, Corbin interrupts to summon Pen to court, as they’ve gotten a confession from Pen’s alleged kidnapper.
Pen is carted off to court at the start of chapter 19, worrying about who has confessed and to what. Has her deception been uncovered? But if they haven’t found Parva, what happened to her? She listens in on Corbin’s conversation with dispatch and learns the court session and the sentencing is to be broadcast live, something that’s never been done before. And that they’ll likely press for the maximum sentence, but what that is remains mysterious.
When they arrive at court, Parva is ushered into the building amidst scenes that are reminiscent of those seen wherever One Direction puts in an appearance. It’s chaos; everyone wants to catch a glimpse of Parva and capture her attention if only for a moment. Espel later reveals these fans call themselves the Khannibles, which Pen finds somewhat disconcerting. Once inside they see a TV screen, which shows a live broadcast of the latest attacks by the Faceless, who are revealed to be led by Garrison Cray. This surname should set bells ringing for those familiar with London’s criminal history. After being received by Case and two of her fellow senators they enter the courtroom proper, where we find that the jury box has been replaced by a camera.
‘In your name,’
The defendant, Harry Blight, is quickly led into the courtroom and he turns out to be the man who was in the river with Pen. He’s looking the worse for wear, though he’s been made to look ‘presentable’ for his TV appearance. He’s followed by the doctor who attended Espel and the judge and court comes to order. Blight is made to repeat his confession for the cameras. He claims to have been recruited by Cray himself and befriended and drugged Parva during her daily run, so the Faceless could devisify her to make a statement. Parva escaped, went into the river and Blight followed, which is when he was caught. Pen quickly realises Blight is telling a lie and that it’s a set-up, but she knows she can’t help him without betraying her own secrets. After Blight’s confession, the lines to the public are opened and the popular opinion seems to favour “off with his head”. Case and her colleagues concur and Blight is condemned to excitation, i.e. the waking of his id. Case tells Pen that they do this for her and Pen sees her chance to save Blight. She pleads for clemency, but Case denies her, claiming an attack on Parva is an attack on the state and can’t go unpunished. And here Pen learns the true nature of mirrorskin as Blight’s id is wakened and proceeds to kill him. It’s a horrible scene and Pollock writes it well, leaving Pen and the reader horrified. Once done, Pen is led back to the car through the gauntlet of her admirers. One of them catches her attention by asking Pen to sign her scars; Pen obliges, but is horrified at the same time.
‘The personal is political’
Chapter 20 sees Pen welcomed home by Edward and Espel quickly takes charge, telling him to have dinner sent up as Parva needs to rest after her difficult afternoon. She offers Pen a drink, which she declines, but pours herself one anyway. She starts to try and massage the knots from Pen’s neck – creating a sense of intimacy – and Pen lets her and asks why Blight’s id attacked him. Espel explains that ids are inimical by nature, calling it his Intimate Devil, but says it’s the price the half-faced pay just to get by. She sounds and feels tense and when Pen opens her eyes, Espel with her steeplejill knife ready to strike. A struggle ensues and Pen manages to activate the panic button, which she’d previously dropped on the sofa. While Edward tries to open the door to come to her rescue, Pen realizes that Espel can’t bring herself to kill Pen and when Edward finally breaks down the door she makes a split-second decision and makes it seem as if she and Espel triggered the alarm by accident while making out on the sofa. Edward retreats in embarrassment and Espel gives up on her attempt. Pen demands an explanation, while Espel wants to know why Pen didn’t turn her in. Espel explains she’s one of the Faceless and that she thought because Parva was mirrorborn she might be convinced to join them. When Pen confronts her with the immigrant attacks, Espel scoffs that they have no reason to attack them and points the finger at Case. She says she was sent to Pen to convince her to join the Faceless and Pen is shocked as she thought she’d saved Espel from an accident. Angry, she asks why then the knife? Espel answers that the excitation of Harry Blight and its broadcast were symbolic of the half-faced’s status as second class citizens. Parva’s death would have been a counter symbol. When Espel asks why Pen spared her, she doesn’t answer. Instead she thinks of Parva and tells Espel: ‘The Faceless want me on side?’ she said at last. ‘Then take me to them.’
And the last line of the chapter just made me shiver:
‘She could almost hear the sibilants stretch in her mouth as she said, “I have a proposition for them.”‘