Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Review: Fly By Night

Frances Hardinge writes in the disclaimer to Fly By Night that it “is not a historical novel. It is a yarn.” That being said, Hardinge admits that Fly By Night and its world (the Realm) are “based roughly on England at the start of the eighteenth century.” And what a world it is. In the Realm, a war between various factions—the Birdcatchers, the Stationers, and the Locksmiths—is in full swing. And young Mosca Mye becomes a key player in the events she doesn’t even understand until the end.

Hardinge structures her novel in chapters from A-V, the first being “A is for Arson,” in which Mosca sets fire to her Uncle’s mill and rescues Eponymous Clent, wordsmith and vagabond rascal. She escapes from the waterlogged town of Clough with Clent as his secretary. The various factions of the Realm are in a war not only against each other, but also against words and books and a single printing press. Behind them all at the center of power are Lady Tamarind, a powdered beauty with a single scar, and her brother, the Duke.

Fly By Night is an adventure story and Mosca Mye a heroine of the first order. She’s a tough scrap of a girl (with missing eyebrows and a rowdy goose named Saracen) who learns to fight for the truth and for freedom of thought and speech. Mosca’s changing opinions as she learns to navigate the politics and violence of her Realm are a revelation. Here’s, for example, what she concludes about words and books at the end of her journey:

  • “Clent was right, and Mosca knew it. Words were dangerous when loosed. They were more powerful than cannon and more unpredictable that storms. They could turn men’s heads inside out and warp their destinies. They could pick up kingdoms and shake them until they rattled. And this was a good thing, a wonderful thing…and in her heart Mosca was sure that Clent knew this too.”

Fly By Night is fast-paced, witty adventure for children ages ten to fifteen. It would also make for a splendid read-aloud or audio book for kids as young as eight.