Fly by Night -- Frances Hardinge


So that’s why everyone’s been raving about Fly by Night.

I was so enthralled that I didn’t even take any notes.  I started it this morning, shooed Josh out of the house so he’d stop distracting me, and didn’t stop until I was done.  I did get hungry about halfway through, so I blindly rooted around the fridge with one hand while still reading.  I loved it.

8-year-old Mosca Mye’s aunt and uncle grudgingly took her in after the death of her father.  While they distrusted her due to her ability to read, they did see the merit in gaining a free bookkeeper.  Her next four years were not happy ones.

At age twelve, Mosca runs away from Chough accompanied only by a homicidal goose called Saracen and a smooth-talking con man named Eponymous Clent.  To Mosca, who treasures language, who saves words by scratching them into pieces of bark, the verbose walking dictionary otherwise known as Clent is someone she needs to follow, regardless of the fact that he swindled most of the people in her town.

What follows is an adventure that involves spies, double-crosses, warring Guilds and political factions, floating coffeehouses, murder, an illegal printing press, a Battle of Beasts, a secret school, book burnings, highwaymen, ballads, a pistol duel and a massive jailbreak.

In Mosca’s world, people fear the printed word.  Any piece of writing that isn’t approved by the Guild of Stationers is destroyed -- and often, so is the person who wrote it.  Words are dangerous and powerful -- people fear them.  They fear reading the wrong words by mistake because their own history has taught them that reading can and will will cause madness.

Fantastic. Obvious, if you are a lover of language, read it.  Fans of Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles, for sure, should also read this.  Fans of Leon Garfield, too.  There are some aspects that Diana Wynne Jones’ fans will appreciate as well – this isn’t a fantasy novel, but some of Hardinge’s adult characters were quite DWJonesian.  Also, in another reality, Dirk's flock of aggressively cantankerous geese could easily be Saracen’s descendants.

Hardinge has created a whole world, convincing and fascinating in language (complete with different dialects and slang), politics and religion. Mosca is immediately likable, both for her intelligence and her pluck.  While Clent is clearly untrustworthy, his ability to spin tales makes him impossible to dislike.  And Saracen – well, obviously he’s just The Best.

A couple of random quotes, just because I liked them:

“It is a very terrible thing to be far smaller than one’s rage.”

“Ordinary life did not stop just because kings rose and fell, Mosca realized. People adapted. If the world turned upside down, everyone ran and hid in their houses, but a very short while later, if all seemed quiet, they came out again and started selling each other potatoes.”

I teared up when the book ended, not because of what happened, but because it was over. Those of you who have read the book will understand when I say this:

I want more story.