7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: The Glass Sentence by S.E. Grove

The Glass Sentence has a fascinating premise with an intricate and ambitious world-building around it. Even though at times said world-building – given its scope – encounters inevitable hurdles and fails to live up to its full potential, my excitement for this world is genuine and lasting. I can’t wait for book 2, The Golden Specific.

Title: The Glass Sentence

Author: S. E. Grove

Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade

Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: June 12 2014
Hardcover: 493 pages


She has only seen the world through maps. She had no idea they were so dangerous.

Boston, 1891. Sophia Tims comes from a family of explorers and cartologers who, for generations, have been traveling and mapping the New World—a world changed by the Great Disruption of 1799, when all the continents were flung into different time periods. Eight years ago, her parents left her with her uncle Shadrack, the foremost cartologer in Boston, and went on an urgent mission. They never returned. Life with her brilliant, absent-minded, adored uncle has taught Sophia to take care of herself.

Then Shadrack is kidnapped. And Sophia, who has rarely been outside of Boston, is the only one who can search for him. Together with Theo, a refugee from the West, she travels over rough terrain and uncharted ocean, encounters pirates and traders, and relies on a combination of Shadrack’s maps, common sense, and her own slantwise powers of observation. But even as Sophia and Theo try to save Shadrack’s life, they are in danger of losing their own.

The Glass Sentence plunges readers into a time and place they will not want to leave, and introduces them to a heroine and hero they will take to their hearts. It is a remarkable debut.

Stand alone or series: The Mapmakers Trilogy #1

How did I get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print

Why did I read this book: I hadn’t heard of this book at all even though it came out last year and earned starred reviews all over the place. Then I was in America a few days ago and during a visit to Barnes and Noble, I asked for the bookseller’s recommendation for a great Middle Grade read. She handed over this book and talked a bit about it. It sounded super great and then I saw Megan Whalen Turner’s blurb and that clinched it for me. I bought it straight away and started to read it.


In 1799, the world changed radically: the Great Disruption threw all continents into different time periods, different eras coexisting in a chaotic mix and match of generations and historical periods. Europe is back to a papal state and parts of North America are pre-historical. Africa is a land of Pharaohs to the North whereas parts of Asia and South America are far into the future. In the Baldlands, past, present and future are dramatically fused into one single territory, the Triple Eras.

It makes sense then, that in this world, explorers and cartologers are heroes and much sought-after professionals. One such cartologer is Shadrack Elli, whose ability to draw and read maps on almost every surface from sand to water, makes him the best cartologer in the world. He is one of the protagonists of this saga, alongside his niece, Sophia Tims, whose parents were explorers who disappeared when she was a small child. She was brought up by Shadrack and knows about maps nearly as much as he does.

But unlike Shadrack and most people in this world, Sophia has been deeply affected by the disruption in a different way: she has no internal clock and is unfastened by time. For Sophia, one minute can feel like an hour, hours can pass in a moment.
Shadrack and Sophia’s adventures start in Boston, 1891, after Shadrack is kidnapped by people who want to use his abilities to find the mythical Map of the World – they believe that changing that map will send the world back to its original (and true) course.

Shadrack leaves behind a glass map and a clue (the glass sentence) that will aid Sophia in finding him. Accompanied by a mysterious boy from the Baldlands and a pair of sibling pirates, they must find another famous cartologer, the only person who can help them find the Map of the World. They need to do that before it is too late, because the world? It is still changing and the eras are still moving.

Now, it behoves me to start by saying that yes, it is true that most of the background and world-building is introduced by more than clumsy info-dump. There are entire sequences that are littered with letmetellyouwhathappened. Generally speaking, this would be a deal-breaker for me. However, the details of this world are so fascinating and exciting, I was able to enjoy the story.

Such details are, among many others:

Politics – Boston, now part of the New Occident, is a land where money gets you into a parliament that is moved by its extreme capitalism and xenophobia. When the story starts a law has been passed that will send people from other eras back to where they came from. The unfairness of this law and how it affects families and people is deftly explored in the story.

Religion: from those who believe in the Fates (who control destiny) to the Nihilismians, who believe the current world isn’t real. Enthralling topic for discussion: the disruption has happened, therefore this is the real world. Discuss.

The Lachrimas: what happens to the people who find themselves right at the border of two eras when the eras change? They lose track of who they are. The Lachrimas are what become of them: tragic creatures of horror.

Alternate history: The more we find out about the world, the more we realise that it is like ours but not exactly: there are creatures of myth here as well as people that are partly made of fauna or made of silver. A day has 20 hours and magic is part of the world just as science is. Was it the Great Disruption that changed the way the world is more than the “when” the world is?

Not everything is ponies and rainbows though. Given the attention given to worldbuilding, the characters themselves are woefully underdeveloped. They are likeable enough and the pirates are super cool but not exactly shining examples of in-depth characterisation. I also confess I was disappointed by how the vast, rich and complex plotline of this book came to a rushed close by the end of this volume: the search for the Map of the World started and concluded here when there was enough material for a whole series.

And finally, the juxtaposition of magic and science was weird. Mapmaking was presented as a science. However, maps can be created on water, sand and glass and were not only movable but also in some cases, were mapping actual memories that only certain people are able to access. Those were explained with hand-wave science and “I will explain to you later, I have no time now”. These maps were made with magic, can we please call them for what they are? #petpeeve (Unless of course, one wishes to interpret this world’s relationship with magic as scientific in their approach).

The Glass Sentence has a fascinating premise with an intricate and ambitious world-building around it. Even though at times said world-building – given its scope – encounters inevitable hurdles and fails to live up to its full potential when it comes to characters, my excitement for this world is genuine and lasting. I can’t wait for book 2, The Golden Specific i.e. Sophia goes after her parents.

Notable quotes/parts:

It happened long ago, when I was only a child. Back then, the outskirts
of Boston were still farmland, and in the summer I spent the long days out of doors with friends, coming home only when the sun set. We escaped the heat by swimming in Boon’s Stream, which had a quick current and a deep pool.

On one especially warm day in the summer of 1799, July 16, all my friends had arrived at the stream before me. I could hear them shouting as I ran toward the bank, and when they saw me standing at the edge of the best diving spot, they called to urge me on. “Jump, Lizzie, jump!” I stripped down to my linen underclothes. Then I took a running start and jumped. I had no way of knowing that when I landed, it would be in a
different world.

I found myself suspended over the pool. With my knees curled up and my arms wrapped around them, I hung there, looking at the water and at the bank near it, unable to move. It was like trying to wake while inside a dream. You want to wake, want to move, but you can’t; your eyes remain closed, your limbs remain stubbornly still. Only your mind is moving, saying, “Get up, get up!” It was just like that, except the dream that would not let go was the world around me.

Everything had gone quiet. I could not even hear my heart beating. Yet I knew that time was passing, and it was passing too quickly. My friends remained motionless while the water around them rushed past in swirling currents at a frightening speed. And then I saw something happening on the banks of the stream.

The grass began growing before my eyes. It grew steadily, until it reached the height that it normally reached in late summer. Then it began to wilt and brown. The leaves on the trees by the banks of the stream turned yellow and orange and red; before long, they had faded and fluttered to the ground. The light around me shone dully gray, as if stuck between day and night. As the leaves began to fall, the light grew dimmer. The field turned a silvery brown as far as I could see and in the next moment transformed itself into a wide, snow-covered expanse.

The stream below me slowed and then froze. The snow rose and fell in waves, as it would through the passage of a long winter, and then it began to recede, pulling away from the naked branches and the soil, leaving muddy earth behind it. The ice on the stream broke into pieces and the water once again rushed through it. Beyond the banks of the stream, the ground turned a pale green, as new shoots sprang up through the
soil, and the trees appeared to grow a verdant lace at their edges. Before too long, the leaves took on their darker summer hue and the grass grew higher. It passed in an instant, but I felt as though I had lived an entire year apart from the world while the world moved on.

Suddenly, I dropped. I landed in Boon’s Stream and heard, once again, all the sounds of the world around me. The stream gurgled and splashed, and my friends and I looked at one another in shock. We had all seen the same thing, and we had no idea what had happened.

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the people of Boston began to discover the incredible consequences of that moment, even if we could not begin to understand it. The ships from England and France ceased to arrive. When the first sailors who set out from Boston after the change returned, dazed and terrified, they brought back confounding stories of ancient ports and plagues. Traders who headed north described
a barren land covered with snow, where all signs of human existence had vanished and incredible beasts known only in myth had suddenly appeared. Travelers who ventured south gave reports so varied—cities of towering glass, and horse raids, and unknown creatures—that no two were the same.

It became apparent that in one terrible moment the various parts of the world had come apart. They were unfastened from time. Spinning freely in different directions, each piece of the world had been flung into a different Age. When the moment passed, the pieces lay scattered, as close to each other in space as they had always been, but hopelessly separated by time. No one knew how old the world truly was, or which Age had caused the catastrophe. The world as we knew it had been broken, and a
new world had taken its place.

We called it the Great Disruption.

Rating: 7 – Very Good

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  • Susan @ Teen Underground
    March 16, 2015 at 9:50 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this review! I’ve heard some great things about The Glass Sentence, and I honestly just haven’t gotten around to tackling it yet. I’m glad to know you enjoyed it, but also to read your very understandable criticisms.

  • Emma @ Miss Print
    March 16, 2015 at 10:34 am

    I loved the premise of this one but struggled in places to get through the story, I think for the reasons you articulated so well in your review. This book remains one of my favorite suggestions to give fans of The Golden Compass. Glad you enjoyed it!

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