Review copy provided by Amulet Books.
Neverfell is a cheesemaker’s apprentice in the underground city of Caverna, and my biggest complaint about this book is that there is not enough cheese in the second half of it. But there is quite a lot of cheese early on–quite a lot of decadent, fanciful cheese–phantasmagoric cheese, even–and it is replaced by other variable decadent and phantasmagorical substances, perfumes, wines. This is a book filled with description and vivid reference, but never in a way that’s extraneous to what’s going on.
Neverfell is fourteen. She feels much younger. The publisher lists “12 and up” as the age range, and I feel that’s about right, by which I mean, kids younger than 12 will be totally fine reading this book as they are for everything else publishers label “12 and up.” It is consistent with that category rather than limited to those numbers. There is darkness here, but not gore; treachery but not despair.
The denizens of Caverna have to specifically learn Faces: that is, their countenances are naturally blank. We learn very early that Cavernan babies don’t mimic facial expressions or experiment with their own features the way we do. Except for Neverfell. Neverfell’s face shows her reactions, her actual emotions–she has to be schooled to make it *avoid* doing so, not schooled to make it do so. In a city of cut-throat politics where everything down to the twitch of an eyebrow is calculated carefully, she is fascinating and dangerous, a loose cannon, a puzzle. How did this happen? What does it all mean? And who is controlling her, who is firing this loose cannon?
The world outside Neverfell’s cheese caves is glittering, complicated, deeply broken. The role she has to play in it is simultaneously predictable in its general shape from the earliest pages and unpredictable in its specific details. I honestly don’t know what to compare this book to. There is nothing quite like it. It’s a backstory of sorts, it’s…not a coming of age so much as a coming into one’s own, it’s about revolution and friendship and learning to pay attention to things that are obvious and things that are not. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s definitely an interesting one.
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