Shatterglass by Tamora Pierce; Scholastic
Press: New York, 2003; $16.95
Shatterglass, a fantasy novel by Tamora Pierce, touches ingeniously close to the real world. Pierce is able to weave a tale which, although fiction, is startlingly believable. The last volume in The Circle Opens quartet, Shatterglass follows the life of Tris, a young ambient mage of unimaginable power, and Kethlun Warder, a glassmaker who just wants to live a normal life but can't. Together they encounter two major crimes in the city of Tharios—one that takes away all rights of the prathmuni and the other, a murder.
Who are the prathmuni? They are the "untouchables" of Tharios, uncomfortably similar to the Untouchables of India. In this book we are able to see the extremes of the mistreatment of people in India in a totally different world. When Tris asks a prathmuni girl why they are discriminated against, the girl explains, "We handle the bodies of the dead. We skin and tan animal hides. We make shoes. We take out the night soil. But mostly, we handle the dead, which means we defile whatever we touch . . ." This is similar to the Hindu law that says that working with animal skins makes one unclean, as does work that involves physical contact with blood, excrement, and the dead, all things which the Untouchables of India do.
Shatterglass touched me because it shoved the issues of human injustice right into my face. When I first read about the prathmuni I thought, This is insane! I am so thankful that I don't live in a world like that! And yet, only a day after I had read about the prathmuni, I happened to read an article in National Geographic that spoke of the injustice of Untouchables occurring in my world!
As I read on I realized that Shatterglass had many messages that reflected reality. For example: Kethlun Warder. Keth is a glassmaker of about twenty years who just wants to be normal—but can't. After being hit by lightning, he finds that his previous ease at glassmaking is gone and a mysterious power has taken its place. It is Tris's job to help Kethlun accept the fact that he is not like everyone else and that being different is OK, even good. Almost everyone deals with the issues of wanting to be someone he or she is not and having to accept reality.
And then the murder mystery. (That is the great thing about Shatterglass. It has at least three major plots occurring and intertwining all at the same time—and the book makes perfect sense!) Obviously I have never been involved with murder, so I can't relate directly to it, but the mystery made the story that much deeper, that much more believable, that much better. After murdering the victims, the assassin would take the bodies and place them in public areas where everyone would notice them, in order to make the point that the caste system was wrong. In this way the murderer ridicules the government, but that does not mean that this method of drawing attention to the issue is the right one to use. The killer's method of displaying the corpses brings further into view the insanity of the treatment of the prathmuni. It also shows how wrong murder really is; Pierce shows that no victims are anonymous losses.