Hello everybody. Today’s post is a spoiler free review of Katharine Orton’s Middle Grade novel Glassheart, followed by an interview with the author.
Through the glass, the magic is waiting… Nona and her uncle travel everywhere together, replacing stained-glass windows in war-torn buildings. When a mysterious commission takes them to the lonely moors of Dartmoor, Nona discovers a wild and powerful magic which threatens everything. Can Nona protect those she loves – even if it means fighting darkness itself? A beautifully imaginative and rich adventure about determination, courage and the power of love, set in the aftermath of World War Two. Perfect for fans of Abi Elphinstone, Sophie Anderson and Catherine Doyle.
My review of Glassheart
A brave and endearing main character
Nona’s character was wonderfully written and I really enjoyed her growth throughout the story. Although she’s struggling to cope with the trauma of the war and the loss of her family, she remains strong and brave and shows a lot of compassion to the people she meets on her journey. She’s definitely a main character that a lot of young readers will identify with.
An enchanting setting
The story takes place in Dartmoor, whose enchanting landscape is portrayed vividly and beautifully in the book. Dartmoor is an area rich in lore and legends and the author did a wonderful job at translating its magical atmosphere into her story.
Prose and plot
The author wonderfully weaves in magic with the harsh realities of post war life. The story is well-balanced, with the right mix of magic, fun and adventure, and a thoughtful exploration of deeper themes such as grief and trauma. The story is also quite action packed and full of rich and atmospheric descriptions that will definitely draw readers into the story.
Themes explored in the book
The story deals with themes such as the loss of loved ones, grief and trauma, and does so with a lot of gentleness and compassion. Through the relationship between Nona and Antoni, her adoptive uncle, the book also looks at found families. The message that family is more than just blood, and that family can mean different things to different people, is one that will surely resonate with a lot of readers. I personally really liked how these themes were handled in the book.
My final thoughts
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s full of magic and adventure and Nona is a main character that a lot of younger readers will definitely connect with.
Interview with Katharine Orton
QaS: Glassheart is your second published novel. Congrats! How was this experience different compared to the publication of your debut novel Nevertell?
KO: Thank you so much! It’s been a very different experience because I’ve felt a level of expectation around Glassheart – from the book industry and from readers – that there simply wasn’t for Nevertell, being my first book. As someone who likes to work undercover and then launch surprises at people, this was quite hard to get used to! But spurred on by what I’d learned from the process with Nevertell, I eventually really got into it. And I’m so grateful to all the people who’ve been anticipating my new book. I hope they enjoy it just as much.
QaS: Glassheart takes place a few years following the end of World War II. What drew you to this time period for the setting of this story?
KO: There are a lot of (excellent) books set during World War II, but not many that explore the aftermath. Because I wanted to think about themes of healing, of piecing life – and the world – back together after terrible events, this time period felt perfect.
QaS: The story largely takes place in Dartmoor, and the book is full of absolutely beautiful descriptions of the moor and other landscapes in the area. What inspired you to choose this location for your book?
KO: I went on a short holiday near Dartmoor and was enchanted by it. It’s such a wide, open, and unique landscape – with fairy tale-esque trees in places such as Wistman’s Wood, deep dark bogs, high, craggy tors, and of course the rolling moors. I loved spending time there. Plus it has a whole host of myths, legends and folktales associated with it that lend it a very magical feel. Ideal for the sort of book I wanted Glassheart to be.
QaS: In the book, several characters have a ‘second-skin’, which is a magical ability that allows them to turn into an animal. If you could have a second-skin, what animal would you pick?
KO: Good question! This is probably a bad idea (especially if there are cats around) but I think I’d like to be a mouse. I could scurry around unseen, but mice are surprisingly fast, agile and bouncy too – as I learned when I was trying to extract one from my Mother-In-Laws bedroom recently!
QaS: Glassmaking plays an important role in the story. Aside from magical occurrences in the book that involve various glass objects, Nona’s Uncle Antoni is also a glassmaker and throughout the book, we get to explore various stages in the glassmaking process. How did you approach your research with regards to all these elements of glassmaking?
KO: Ahh – I had a bit of insider knowledge there. I used to work with glass, and have made stained glass windows and art myself! At one point I used to teach glass bead-making and other courses, and have worked alongside some very talented tradespeople, crafters and creators. So I had seen the process with my own eyes, watched how people work and even done a little myself.
QaS: Glassheart also discusses themes such as grief and trauma, as well as narratives of found families. These are important topics to discuss in children’s literature, especially in fictional settings like this one, and with a relatable main character such as Nona at the heart of the story. The empathetic approach to the discussion of these topics definitely makes it easier for young readers to understand them and engage with them. What books from your childhood would you say have had an influential impact on your journey as a reader?
KO: I’m very pleased that you think so. Some of the stories I remember from my childhood are books like The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde and Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, each of which I think tackle emotions – and humanness – with a great amount of skill and tenderness. The stories that move me most always have that touch, I think. When I read, I like to feel as though I’ve gleaned a little nugget of truth about what it is to be human.
QaS: What are some of your favorite things about meeting your young readers? Are there any special memories from your fan interactions that you would like to share?
KO: It’s always amazing to get a message or a letter from a reader who has enjoyed my books and felt moved enough to let me know. That has to be one of the best things about being a published writer, full stop, and I just can’t emphasise that enough. If I can I usually try to reply. After Nevertell, people also shared some of their own family stories with me that related to the context of the book: its setting in a Siberian gulag in the USSR. I was honoured by that. Not only that they’d liked my book but that they were gifting me with their own incredible – and true – stories.
About the author
I was born in London and, after finishing a degree in English Literature and MA in Creative Writing, moved to Bristol. There I worked for children’s publisher Barefoot Books in Bath, as a copywriter, and then with stained glass – before leaving to focus on my young family and writing. I wrote Nevertell while my son was at nursery and during his naptimes, and signed with my agent after taking part in the brilliant WoMentoring project. Much of my writing is inspired by folklore, fairy tales, and ghost stories. Both Nevertell and Glassheart are published by Walker Books.
You can follow Katharine online at the following: