I picked this book up for two reasons. One, the Book Smugglers have a major love affair with Frances Hardinge’s books. And, two, I trust children’s books much more at the moment than I do YA. I never thought I could shy away from an entire genre but the pile of crap that is being published lately is disturbing. I am sticking with adult books and, to get my dose of whimsy, books for younger kids. Thanks to Ana and Thea for the recommendation – this was a blast.
Published by: Macmillan, 2005
ebook: 448 pages
Series: Fly by Night #1
My rating: 7,5/10
First sentence: “But names are important!”, the nursemaid protested.
A breath-taking adventure story, set in reimagined eighteenth-century England. As the realm struggles to maintain an uneasy peace after years of cival war and tyranny, a twelve-year-old orphan and her loyal companion, a grumpy goose, are about to become the unlikely heroes of a radical revolution. Mosca Mye has spent her childhood in a miserable hamlet, after her father was banished there for writing inflammatory books about freedom. Now he is dead and Mosca is on the run, heading for the city of Mandelion. There she finds herself living by her wits among cut-throat highwaymen, spies and smugglers. With peril at every turn, Mosca uncovers a dark plot to terrorize the people of Mandelion, and soon merry mayhem leads to murder . . .
With an unforgettable cast of characters and an inspiring message at its heart – sometimes the power of words can change the world
It’s going to be very difficult to talk about this novel without rehashing the entire plot. So I will only give you the basics. Mosca Mye runs away from home, with only her trusted goose from hell, Saracen, by her side. Her journey will take her to the rather unsuccessful conman Eponymous Clent, and later into the city of Mandelion. There, conspiracies are brewing under the surface, an illegal printing press has the Stationers Guild up in arms, and Mosca manages to get herself right into the center of the political intrigue.
Which leads me to the first two things that impressed me. First of all, Frances Hardinge manages to put a quite complicated political situation in a children’s book and make it accessible despite its intricacies. Sure, I can hear the outcry of certain parents (the same ones who cried out about Cat Valente’s Fairyland books) that this may be too difficult for a child to understand, but I’ve always been of the opinion that people can only grow when they are confronted with something new. And children spend most of their time discovering things they don’t understand. Yet. That said, it did take me a while to understand how the political factions are connected to each other. The Guilds – Stationers, Locksmiths, Watermen – each came to life after a while and I came to see a bigger picture.
The second thing that made me adore this story was the author’s phenomenal imagination. There is very little 18th century England in this novel, most of it is pure made-up brilliance. Be it the religion – one with numerous gods, shrines, and giving children a name befitting the Beloved under which they were born – the city of Mandelion, where coffee houses are found on boats and can float down the river at a moment’s notice, or the politics governing that city. Mosca is born under Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butterchurns (see why I love this?) and is thusly named Mosca – fly in Spanish. I found it stunning and refreshing and was reminded a little bit of the Flora Segunda books. Every page offers something new to the greedy reader and these things can range from downright hilarious, to scary, to surprising. You will look for boring moments in vain.
The only reason I haven’t mentioned the characters yet is because the abovementioned two points stand out so much they had to come first. But Mosca Mye definitely deserves to be noticed, not only because she is a plucky heroine with her heart in the right place and her body often in the wrong place and the wrongest of tiems, but also because she is a girl I wholeheartedly want my own children to love and look up to. Mosca doesn’t always do what’s right, but she always does what she believes to be the right thing. She is not perfect. Living in the swampy town of Chough has made her eyebrows almost seethrough, her face is often described as ferrety and her looks don’t even figure into the plot at all. What a refreshing notion – and one I see much better done in Middle Grade fiction than YA, for some reason. While the side characters don’t show up a whole lot, they each have personality and a distinct voice that made it easy for me to know who was talking, even without the “xyz said”. Eponymous Clent especially has grown on me with his flowery speech and the big words he uses.
While this wilde adventure is over and Mosca is mostly unscathed (come on, that’s not a spoiler), there is a sequel to Fly by Night which I will be reading quite soon. After all, there is some unfinished business to take care of and I have a hunch that Mosca won’t be far from it when things culminate…
And after all, it was Mosca who said:
THE GOOD: Great characters having a wonderful adventure in a wildly imaginative world. Politics, intrigues, and ideas that will challenge kids to think for themselves. A heroine that is lovable and concerned with things other than boys and her looks. Yay.
THE BAD: Depending on the child’s age and maturity, the political intrigue may be a bit over their head. Honestly, I think even without understand all the details, kids will still enjoy this story for the fun adventure that it is.
BONUS: Saracen, the goose. Unstoppable.
THE VERDICT: 7,5/10 – Very good.