by Julia Golding
Companion novel to Dragonfly
Although girls are forbidden to join the glassmakers' guild, Rain's father taught her how to design windows and other glass works. Using his name, she has designed pieces that have become famous throughout the city, and even beyond its borders. When a commission comes from the land of Magharna, it is a great honor – but since Rain cannot be acknowledged as the artist, she travels with a cousin, pretending that she is his fiance. Unfortunately, the rigid caste system is slowly destroying Magharna as desperate citizens turn bandit to survive. Rain's entire traveling party is killed before they reach their destination, and she is left stranded in a land where she cannot speak the language and little recourse is available young women. As the entire society collapses around her, Rain must find a way to survive, with no one but a cantankerous bondsman and an “untouchable” falconer at her side.
Rain is an incredibly likable heroine. She's creative and artistic, and the passages describing her work with glass are the best parts of the book. But Rain does so much more than just make pretty objects. When she's effectively abandoned in Magharna, she doesn't give up. She finds a place to work and, though she struggles, does her best to learn the language and societal mores of her new home. She never gives up hope that her father will find her, though she has no way to communicate with him. Best of all, though Rain is small and physically frail, she's quite clever. Initially, she suffers from a prejudice against people of her coloring, but when the government collapses Rain quickly figures out how to turn these beliefs to her advantage, saving herself and the bondsman Mikel from almost certain death. Heck, she almost single-handedly engineers the new government that grows in the wreckage of the city. Rain is almost too good to be true – but in this fantasy world, it works, so I'll allow it.
Her friend/protector/romantic interest Peri the falconer is not as strong a character as Rain, although he's got more pages dedicated to him than any other person after her. He and Peri often clash with their opposing ideas, and he can be quite forceful in getting his point across. (At one point, he nearly ties her up with the leather straps used in falconing so that he can “kidnap” her to safety.) The romance between the two characters tends to move in fits and starts – nothing will happen for pages and pages and suddenly there will be a kiss out of nowhere. Certainly, opposites attract and characters at cross purposes do fall in love, but it often feels contrived in The Glass Swallow.
Although elements of the book are highly improbable – I cannot believe that a society can rebuild itself as quickly as Magharna recovers from collapse – it's a fun and engrossing read. Although I was under the impression that the book aimed for a high school/young adult audience, it reads much younger. I'd recommend it to middle grade readers – maybe even upper elementary students.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Isaac: A Modern Fable by Ivan G. Goldman
2011: Stones into Schools by Greg Mortenson
2010: News: Press “Pause” on the Piranha
2009: Ashland 2009: Henry VIII by William Shakespeare
2008: Update on Neil Gaiman contest + author interview