In the underground city of Caverna, the world’s most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare—wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Expressions must be learned, and only the famous Facesmiths can teach a person to express (or fake) joy, despair, or fear—at a steep price. Into this dark and distrustful world comes Neverfell, a girl with no memory of her past and a face so terrifying to those around her that she must wear a mask at all times. Neverfell's expressions are as varied and dynamic as those of the most skilled Facesmiths, except hers are entirely genuine. And that makes her very dangerous indeed . . .
An amnesiac girl named Neverfell is thrust into court politics she can't begin to understand in this complex, claustrophobic, and deeply compelling novel, originally published in the U.K. in 2012. The citizens of the mazelike underground city of Caverna have turned the production of food and other goods into decadent art, with "wines that rewrote the subtle book of memory, cheeses that brought visions... perfumes that ensnared the mind, and balms that slowed ageing to a crawl." Additionally, no one born in Caverna has the ability to show natural facial expressions, so Facesmiths teach citizens artificial ones with names like "In Contemplation of Verdigris" or "An Ode to Peppermint." Neverfell's face, however, reveals true, unguarded emotion something terrifyingly alien in Caverna. Hardinge (The Lie Tree) has created a world of great affectation and pretense, as well as visceral danger; poisonings and blithely ordered executions are persistent threats. Hardinge's characteristically lush and sophisticated language will entrance readers, and she makes wonderful use of her singular setting and wildly eccentric cast to pose haunting questions about reality, artifice, and the things we attempt to conceal. Ages 14 up.