A new-old book from Hardinge (published in the U.K. in 2012 but only now arriving stateside) balancing wit and wonder with a dose of big thoughts.
In an underground world where wines control memories and perfumes ensnare minds, babies don’t smile. Expressions are taught; for drudges, only a few Faces, none angry; for members of the Court, hundreds, designed to convey nuanced emotions and hide the truth, taught by celebrated Facesmiths. But 12-year-old Neverfell, white, freckled, red-haired, and taller than almost everyone, is different: her titular face shows her every emotion, uncontrollably, meaning she alone cannot lie. When she runs away from Cheesemaster Grandible, she becomes the pawn of various schemers among the Court and eventually the face of a revolution. Hardinge excels at wordplay and worldbuilding; witty but not trite, her utterly original setting and chaotic, fidgety protagonist anchor a cracking good story that raises important ideas surrounding the nature of friendship, the value of honesty, and the danger of too much, whether luxury, ambition, power, or desire. Each character, however minor, however exaggerated and absurd, leaps fully realized from the page (witness the Kleptomancer, whose thievery is part of a plan he has hidden even from himself).
Madcap, mysterious, magical, and meaty: like Grandible’s cheeses, this may cause visions—or just make your head explode (with delight). Don’t miss it. (Fantasy. 10-adult)