Monday, July 18, 2011

Review: Fly By Night

by Frances Hardinge
Start Date: 11 July 2011
End Date: 12 July 2011
Paperback, 512 pages
Published March 1st 2008

Summary (from Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye hasn't got much. Her cruel uncle keeps her locked up in his mill, and her only friend is her pet goose, Saracen, who'll bite anything that crosses his path. But she does have one small, rare thing: the ability to read. She doesn't know it yet, but in a world where books are dangerous things, this gift will change her life.

Enter Eponymous Clent, a smooth-talking con man who seems to love words nearly as much as Mosca herself. Soon Mosca and Clent are living a life of deceit and danger — discovering secret societies, following shady characters onto floating coffeehouses, and entangling themselves with crazed dukes and double-crossing racketeers. It would be exactly the kind of tale Mosca has always longed to take part in, until she learns that her one true love — words — may be the death of her.

My Review:
I love this book. I can't believe I forgot about how much I loved it for such a long time. I reread it in the last couple of days so that I could have it fresh in my mind when I read Fly Trap. This time around, I consciously noticed a lot of parts of the story that I had subconsciously noted and made me like the book last time. Through witty exchanges, politics, mystery, wonderful characters, and above all, a love of language, Hardinge creates a story that is nearly impossible not to enjoy.

First and foremost, I adore Hardinge's writing style. In my most recent Teaser Tuesday, I included two quotes that I felt showed different aspects of her style. When I was rereading Fly By Night this time, I was sorely tempted to write down some of my favorite quotes, but I was enjoying the story too much to be bothered to put the book down, and I also realized that I could have easily filled up pages of favorite quotes. I can find a great quote by flipping a any random page. For example, within one page of meeting Mabwick Toke, a character who plays a large role in the puzzle of Mandelion's ever-shifting politics, Hardinge gives the reader this description:
Mabwick Toke ran a quick eye over the ballad, droning the words to himself in his throat. Absentmindedly, he caught up a quill to jot and correct, occasionally licking the nib to wet it. This was clearly a habit of his, since the tip of his tounge had become black as that of a parrot. He drinks ink, thought Mosca, looking at his black tounge. He eats nothing but paper, she added to herself, noting his dry, pale lips and the crumpled-looking skin of his face and hands. (Hardinge 134)
The book is absolutely filled with such descriptions. Harding thinks of the most imaginative and wonderful descriptions of everything from the most ordinary - the water of Chough, Mosca's hometown, for instance - to the somewhat fantastical -  such as the floating, kite-powered coffeehouses in Mandelion.

My second favorite aspect of Fly By Night are the wonderful characters. These characters are not shallow in the least. From Mosca, our quick-witted heroine, to Eponymous Clent, the wordsmith and con man, to The Cakes, who befriends Mosca, to even the Duke of Mandelion and Lady Taramind, there is no character with a missing backstory or unclear motives. Even the villains are fun to read about, and many characters who seem insignificant upon first meeting end up with a larger role than expected. And of course Saracen, Mosca's loyal (and homicidal) goose, can liven up any scene.

The third best part of this book would have to be, of course, that it is so incredibly funny. Even the more serious scenes have a line or two that makes the reader smile. Flipping to (yet another) random page, I picked a quote that  displays Hardinge's sense of humor. (Unfortunately, it's also a very minor spoiler, so highlight to view)
"Saracen!" She gaped at him in horror. "Look! I'm all criminally printed!" ... "Well, I can't go back to Mandelion like this," she muttered. "I've got an illegal nose." (Hardinge 371)
 Additionally, every character takes part in tons of witty dialogue, and I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book.

Also, tons of separate strands of plot create a colorful and engaging narrative. Fly By Night is, in addition to a puzzle about the politics of Mandelion, a commentary on government, religion, freedom of speech, and an engaging yarn about a girl navigating the world. (By the way, I totally missed the whole commentary part when I read Fly By Night the first time, years ago. Of course, that extra layer makes it even better.) I highly recommend Fly By Night.

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