BY LAURA E. GOODIN
I received Mud and Glass from Odyssey Books in exchange for an honest review.
This book had me feeling a plethora of emotions. From the first page, I knew it was a well-crafted, solidly structured story. I was in awe. Then, at half-way through, it had me wanting to go out and change the world. But at the end of the book, the unexpected twist brought a sudden realisation, an epiphany if you like, of just how powerfully drawn the protagonist Celeste is.
Celeste is a geography professor at Purple Bay University in the fictional country of Krasnia. We first learn that she stole her best friend and colleague, Pace’s, research because she believed that the research results, they had collected needed to be made public. Pace has not forgiven her, so we are told, even though Pace trusts Celeste to accompany her on her latest research project to uncover an important artefact, the Littoral Cortex. The book is told from Celeste’s perspective and yet we are unaware that what she thinks about Pace contradicts what we see of Pace’s actions. It is only at the end of the book, when our entire understanding of what we believe is flipped. That last scene with Pace and Celeste is short, but gives Pace an intriguing, but unanticipated edge.
Celeste is a fascinating character in her own right. For most of the book, she’s hiding from the Littoral League, the Praxies (a powerful family), and everyone else who is after the Littoral Cortex. It is not until the final pages that we find she’s also been hiding from herself. I won’t spoil her arc, but the journey of how she comes to terms with the trauma of her past and the events that unfold is sensitively, beautifully and authentically written.
Another aspect of this book that resonates with me is the question it raises, “what happens when your creative freedom is threatened?” This sounds like a dystopian pontification, but this is a very present and ongoing concern. In high school, I remember my critical thinking class being turned into another study session because we had far too many assignments due. Learning for life is what we should be teaching students, not how to cram for an exam. In the past before digital technologies, learning how to absorb large amounts of knowledge was a necessity. Nowadays, learning how to assess and seek knowledge is far more important. The current education system is outdated, and this book starts the discussion on how we could improve.
It also addresses the stigma around the creative arts. In the past two decades, the arts faculties in schools and universities have been grossly underfunded. When I was a university arts student, all our plays were performed in one small studio because the university demolished our theatre and, instead of rebuilding a new theatre, the resources were put into upgrading the engineering and science buildings. It’s great to be pro sciences and technology, but the creative industries are important too and Mud and Glass shows us why passion in a subject is crucial and necessary for our communities. In fact, Russ, the Theatre Arts lecturer, is one of the heroes who leads the rebellion against the founding families of the university. Goes to show us theatre nerds are not bums after all. :p
To sum up, Mud and Glass is a multi-faceted piece of literature, with rich characters, meaningful themes and a topic that brings forth a very real concern about the current education system.
As to whether I recommend this book, “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Go read it! It’s a “yes” from me.