Fly by Night

I found this book through Four Obsessions, who found it through A Fuse #8 production, who declared it (back in February) to be the best children’s book of 2006. I’m not nearly as well-versed in children’s books as Fuse is (being a children’s librarian and all), but I do have to join in her enthusiasm for this book by Frances Hardinge. If all first books could be like this — shoot, if all books could be like this — the world would be a happy place.

A blurb about the story doesn’t do the book justice, but I’ll attempt it just the same. Mosca Mye, a 12-year-old girl, lives in the Fractured Realm with her aunt and uncle after her father’s death. She (accidentally) sets their mill on fire and heads out of town with Eponymous Clent, a poet, a cad, a shady but nice enough man. They head for Mandeloin, where they get involved in Nefarious Plots and have all sorts of Adventures. I know it doesn’t sound all that great. But, really it is.

Why? The words, for one. I loved the description of the relationship between Mosca and Saracen, Mosca’s pet goose whom no one else can get near:

However, Mosca and Saracen shared, if not a friendship, at least the
solidarity of the generally despised. Mosca assumed that Saracen had his
reasons for his persecution of terriers and his possessive love of the
malthouse roof. In turn, when Mosca had interrupted Saracen’s self-important
nightly patrol and scooped him up, Saracen had assumed that she, too, had
her reasons.

There are many wonderful little nuggets like that; it would take me too long to write them all. I loved that you didn’t quite know where everyone stood; even Mosca has questionable allegiances at times. There’s no clear-cut black and white. I loved the world which Hardinge created, with the Beloved and Birdcatchers and Sationers and Locksmiths all playing roles in this drama.

My only real complaint is the book cover Harper Collins chose for it. Across the front, there’s a banner: “Imagine a world in which all books have been BANNED!” Well, while not exactly untrue, it’s a bit misleading. In the Fractured Realm, the books aren’t banned, but rather heavily censored. In fact, that’s a major theme running through: what would happen in a world where the free exchange of ideas lead to violence? And then, when the people responsible for stopping the violence (in a violent manner), took it upon themselves to approve or disapprove of everything published? What kind of world would it become? There’s one quote from the head Staioner in Mandelion, talking to Mosca about her father:

“Your father had a brilliant mind — I have never known a keener. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to give the order for his books to be burned. ” He barked his laugh. “And the second hardest was persuading the Guild that they should not burn him as well as his books.”

It’s a good adventure and, in the end, a profound little book. Highly recommended.

2 thoughts on “Fly by Night

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