Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge, was published in 2005 by HarperCollins.
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 enjoyment of Fly by Night was marred by the slow pace at which I read it; work and other “real” things made it so that I was only reading a small portion at a time, and when I was reading, I was either busy thinking about other things so I wasn’t completely focused on the book, or I was falling asleep while reading (not because the book is boring but because I was tired), or I just did not have enough time to enjoy it properly.
As a result, the book didn’t fit into a cohesive unit for me. I had trouble remembering the world building and what was going on in the plot and who the numerous characters were. All of this, of course, has nothing to do with the quality of the book itself; I’m merely sad that I couldn’t focus more properly on reading this book—because what sunk in and what I remember of it, I really liked. So, I can’t say much about the plot or the world, because as I explained above, a lot of details flew out of the window because of my state of mind and because I read it in much smaller sections over a much longer period of time than I usually read. I did find the world a little confusing, and keeping track of all the characters was hard—but that could be my distraction speaking.
But, distraction and forgetfulness aside, Fly by Night revels in delicious imagery and enjoying words and creating scenarios that seem so strange yet fit right into the world. Hardinge is a fantastic, unique writer and the focus that is placed on the written word—in a book where the written word is heavily restricted, if not banned outright—is detailed and precise. The reader becomes Mosca, enjoying the words that she hears and sees. It’s a beautiful book and I can see why a lot of people make a fuss over Hardinge. For a debut novel, it’s fabulously, beautifully original.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Warnings: A small amount of violence, death.
Genre: Fantasy, Middle Grade
“I am a writer of ballads—I value gestures. I understand them. I know what I can do with them. Let us suppose, for example, that you allowed this young woman to stay in her carriage, handed her back her money, and wished her and her people godspeed back to Mandelion so that she could find a physician who might save her life—ah, what I could do with that!”
Blythe’s eyes asked silently what Clent could do with that.
“I could write a ballad that would make proverbial the chivalry of Clamoring Captain Blythe. By nightWhen you rode the cold cobbles of a midnight street, you would hear it sung in the taverns you passed, to give you more warmth than that thin coat of yours. When you were hunted across the moors by the constables, hundreds would lie sleepless, hoping that brave Captain Blythe still ran free.
“And when at night you lay on your bed of earth under your dripping roof of bracken, with no company but the wind and your horse champing moss near your head, you would know that in a glittering banquet hall somewhere, some young lady of birth would be thinking of you.
“That is what you stand to lose.”