Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Glass Swallow

The Glass Swallow

Julia Golding
For ages 12 and up
Skyscape, 2011   ISBN: 978-0761459798

For many weeks rain has fallen on Holt and the crops have been poor. Luckily for the people living in that land the king, the queen, and the prime minister are wise and compassionate leaders who do everything they can to ensure that their people do not suffer during hard times. The “wise government” and rationing laws should ensure that the people will not become destitute, though they will all have to “tighten their belts.”

Rain Glassmaker and her father Torrent are better off than most because Torrent is a skilled glassmaker whose wares and stained-glass windows are prized by people far and wide. Indeed, the queen herself has commissioned Torrent to make stain-glass windows for a new temple.

What no one knows is that the stain-glass windows that Torrent crafts are not designed by him. Rain is the one who has the skill to create designs that delight the people who see them in their finished colorful form. Unfortunately for Rain the guild-masters in the city of Tigral do not allow women to work with glass. If anyone finds out what Rain has been doing, her father will be punished severely. Torrent and Rain therefore keep their creative partnership a secret, telling no one about it.

Then Torrent is offered an opportunity that he would be foolish to decline. Ambassadors from a land called Magharna have come to Holt, and the hope is that the two countries will become trading partners. Apparently the Magharnans are looking for craftsman who can work on a summer palace that they are building for their leader, the Master. The ambassadors have seen the windows Torrent made for the temple and would like to meet the designer.

The meeting takes place and Torrent agrees to send someone from his workshop to design windows for the new palace in Rolvint, the capital of Magharna. The problem is that none of the men in Torrent employ, even his nephews, are good designers. Certainly none of them can match Rain’s skills. It is decided that Rain will travel to Magharna with one her cousins and when she gets there they will pretend that the cousin is the one who creates the designs.

Though the journey is a long one, all goes well until shortly after they arrive in Magharna. They are traveling on a road to Rolvint when the party is attacked by bandits. Everyone in the travel party is killed, except for Rain, who is captured by the bandits. Luckily for Rain a young falconer sees what has happened and he rescues her before the bandits can sell her.

The young falconer, Peri, takes Rain to Rolvint and leaves her at the gates of the city, thinking that her obvious rank will ensure that she is cared for. Though Rain manages to explain what happened to her, no one makes any effort to help her. Though she was under the protection of the ambassador who visited Tigral, no one takes responsibility for her now. Thus Rain ends up destitute, living in a shelter, and working for her keep as a kitchen servant.

As time goes by Rain comes to learn that the situation in Maharna is much worse than it was at home. Here too rains have caused crops to fail, but the leaders in the country, the ruling classes, show no interest in helping out anyone who is lower than them in the social scale. Indeed, the classes in the land are kept strictly separate, and people like the falconer who rescued Rain are not even allowed to live in the city because they are considered unclean.

Rain sees Peri the Falconer again, who is shocked to discover that no one came to her aid when he left her at the city gates. He wishes he could help Rain get home, but he comes from a poor family and he is in no position to do much for her, other than to be her friend.

When a shipment of gold is stolen by bandits, and when the currency in the land collapses, the already fragile system of law and order in Magharna falls apart. There is rioting and looting, and Rain once again finds herself homeless when the shelter where she lives closes. At least this time she has friends who are willing to take her in. Rain takes refuge with her friend Mikel, and not long afterwards Peri comes to Mikel’s house and offers to take both of them to safety. They are all set to leave the city to go to Peri’s home outside the city walls when Rain insists that they should go to the palace to talk to someone in charge. Someone has to do something to save the country. Someone has to take care of the old, the women, and the children who have no protectors. Rain refuses to be swayed. After all, “It’s the people’s responsibility to let their rulers know when someone is wrong.” This is how things work in Holt and this is how things should work in Magharna.

In this exciting and beautifully written book we meet two characters who are unexpectedly thrown together through sheer bad luck. Though they are very different in temperament and come from completely different backgrounds, Rain and Peri form an attachment that is both exasperating and delightful for them both. Readers will be fascinated to see how these two young people survive the impossible situation in which hat they are placed.