Friday, August 5, 2011

Review: Fly Trap

by Frances Hardinge
Start Date: 12 July 2011
End Date: 14 July 2011
Hardcover, 592 pages
Published May 31st 2011

Summary (from Goodreads):
Having barely escaped the revolution they had a huge (if accidental) part in causing, sharp-eyed orphan Mosca Mye; her guard goose, Saracen; and their sometimes-loyal companion, the con man Eponymous Clent, must start anew. (spoiler for Fly By Night, highlight to view)

All too quickly, they find themselves embroiled in fresh schemes and twisting politics as they are trapped in Toll, an odd town that changes its entire personality as day turns to night. Mosca and her friends attempt to fend off devious new foes, subvert old enemies, prevent the kidnapping of the mayor's daughter, steal the town's Luck, and somehow manage to escape with their lives—and hopefully a little money in their pockets.

In the eagerly awaited sequel to Fly by Night, acclaimed storyteller Frances Hardinge returns to a vivid world rich with humor, danger, and discovery.

My Review:
Fly Trap was a wonderful read, full of complexities, twists, and masterful wordsmithing, but it didn't enchant me the way Fly By Night did. (Click the link for my review.)

All the best elements of Fly By Night were present in Fly Trap. Great characters throughout the novel, far more than Mosca and Clent alone, breathed life into the story (although some of my favorite secondary characters, sadly, did not make an appearance). As for original settings, Hardinge's Fractured Realms are some of the most imaginative I've read, yet they are so well-written that it is no trouble at all to picture the wonders of Toll and Madelion as easily as it is to picture the typical setting of "once upon a time." The dialogue was lots of fun to read, and the story, as always, was phenomenal. But something seemed to be missing - that spark that transformed Fly By Night from an entertaining and original story into one of my favorite books.

One of the aspects of Fly Trap that I was not expecting when I opened the book was Hardinge's dive into the religious system of the Fractured Realm, with all the different Beloved, each belonging to a specific day or night of the year. (One of the things I was expecting was the expansion of the Fractured Realms, which was definitely there. World-building is one of Hardinge's strengths.) Each of the chapters is named after a Beloved, usually one that has something to do with the chapter, although it's often a bit of a puzzle to figure out how. Hardinge creates a rich religious system (which, if this statement is worrying, isn't overly religious. Mosca herself does not fully believe in the Beloved) full of Beloved that could easily fill up books with their mythology (and I would read them). Some examples: Goodman Jayblister, Master of entrances and salutations; Goodlady Evenax, Mistress of the twilight chimes; Goodman Snatchavoc, the voice in the gambler's ear; and Goodman Garotten, red-handed bringer of retribution. I could go on and on - there's an extensive list at the front of the book in the form of a table of contents.

Perhaps the only reason I didn't love Fly Trap as much as I love Fly By Night is the way the story plays out. In Fly By Night, everything culminates in one twisted and brilliant puzzle that Mosca alone can solve. In Fly Trap, Mosca must figure out the secrets of Toll-by-Night, but it seems like although there are more puzzle pieces, the puzzle itself is smaller.

One aspect that I didn't mind in the least but some readers might be frustrated with is the sheer length of the novel. Personally, I loved it - the more Hardinge I could get, the better (not to mention I don't care much about the length of books; I read Fly By Night right before I picked up Eona, another hefty hardback at 637 pages). I would say generally if you didn't love Fly By Night, it isn't worth picking up Fly Trap simply because it's quite a commitment for most readers to read 1100 pages (approximately the number of both books combined - no, I don't really care what the exact number is. You can calculate for yourself if it's important to you).

Of course, no review would be complete without mentioning, once again, Hardinge's wonderful talent with words. If you've read my review for Fly By Night, which hopefully you have if you're reading this one, you'll know I just love Hardinge's writing style. I flipped to a few random pages to grab quotes to include:
Toll was a hill town, and all its streets knew it. They were a hodgepodge of cobbled ramps, upward zigzags, sudden flights of brick steps, and abrupt drops. By the time Clent and Mosca reached the central plaza, Mosca was out of breath again, and completely, utterly out of patience with the catalog of Beamabeth Marlebourne's charms. (Hardinge 100-101)

"... Sir Feldroll, this reward - there needs to be some left over for some other folks we made promies to, and who need it as much as their necks. Oh, and my goose! Saracen comes with me."
     "I do not think," Sir Feldroll remarked, with an uncharacteristic quirk of humor in the corner of his mouth, "that you will have any trouble persuading the mayor of that at all."
     If the mayor's staff had been any happier to lose Saracen and regain their second pantry, they would probably have broken into a caper. (Hardinge 273)
(Fly By Night fans will be happy to notice the return of their favorite, homicidal, barge-and-pantry-commandeering goose.) Hardinge's wonderful ability to manipulate language into exactly the right shape for every scene never fails to amaze me, and continues to be one of my favorite parts of her books. Every description, even those that may at first seem unnecessary, prove to be essential, if not to the plot itself, then to creating a world I'd be happy to return to.

Overall, although I wouldn't count Fly Trap as one of my all-time favorites, I enjoyed it immensely, and I will definitely be returning to the Fractured Realms many, many times.

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