The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove
~ review by Sarah H.
First and foremost, The Glass Sentence is a novel of astounding imagination. The world of the protagonist, Sophia Tims, is, at first glance, the real Boston, Massachusetts of the late 1800s. But nearly a century before Sophia was born, the Great Disruption caused a split in the continuity of time over the continents that was so severe, different eras began appearing all over the globe. Europe was plunged into the mid 13th century, the western frontier of North America is a mish-mash of multiple eras (and consequently a very lawless place), and South America exists in an Ice Age (past or future is not known). How this happened, why, and what happened to all the people from the “present” are never explicitly explained, as the characters themselves are baffled by these questions. This bothered me just a bit in the beginning, but as it turns out, the story of Sophia Tims, her brilliant guardian Shadrack, and their search for her missing parents, was so incredibly compelling that I eventually forgot about wanting those answers and lost myself in their adventures instead.
When Sophia was just a child, her adventurer parents disappeared while on a mysterious mission. She has since been raised by her Uncle Shadrack, a famous “Cartologer”. Cartology is the study of maps and mapmaking. However, once the Great Disruption happened, Cartology became much more complex. Not only does Shadrack make maps of the earth in his own era and in other eras (an incredible feat in and of itself), he has learned the art of making memory maps, a technology made possible only by the knowledge and techniques of a different era. Maps of different materials hold different kinds of memories. Clay maps contain memories of topography, metal maps hold memories of man-made structures, cloth maps hold memories of weather, and so on. Stack them on top of one another and you have complete memories of a time and place. This technique, while clearly supernatural, is never presented as such and is shrouded in mystery throughout the novel. Perhaps it is a case of sufficiently advanced technology appearing as magic, but no one ever says that. Sophia is just learning how to read these maps when her Uncle Shadrack is abducted and his collection of maps ransacked. When Sophia discovers a note for her stashed away with a glass map, she must then set out on an adventure of her own to get the glass map to safety and to find her Uncle. This adventure takes her across multiple eras where she accumulates some unlikely companions all the while being pursued by terrifying men with scarred faces.
The Glass Sentence is a supernatural adventure story with a hefty dose of mystery. And while it is a bit discombobulating at the beginning to think about the many consequences of the Great Disruption, Sophia’s plight begins to supersede these concerns as the story zeroes in on her character’s trajectory. The fantastical idea that a person’s memories could be mapped, and in such a way as another person can experience those memories as their own, opens a can of worms the size of the Louisiana Purchase. The fact that the story never gets bogged down in these details is a testament to author’s focus on the real story, that of Sophia and her companions. But these consequences are not ignored entirely either. Shadrack makes it clear to Sophia that in making memory maps there is a very real danger of a person’s memories being not quite accurate, or the ability of a Cartologer to modify a memory map for his own ends, which would be a very serious breach of ethics on the part of a mapmaker. This discussion, to me, seems to clearly set up a scenario for the next book in the series while not being a serious plot point in this one. All in all S.E. Grove’s debut novel is a treasure of imagination and I can’t wait to see where the next one goes!
The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove is now available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com!