Fly by Night - Frances Hardinge

Genre: Children's/Fantasy/Fiction

Synopsis: 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 -- 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.


Review: Wow. Just, wow. I have never read anything by Frances Hardinge before, but I now want to read everything she's written including her shopping lists. I have rarely been so spoiled by the pleasure of such beautiful writing as can be found in this stunning little curiosity of a novel.

Designated a children's book at every turn, I am genuinely surprised it is considered so. At approximately 500 pages of poetic prose it is not a light read, even if it is a wholly immersive one. I feel like it's a childrens' book in the same way that His Dark Materials is a childrens' series - on the surface, maybe, but if you delve deeper into what the stories really have to say, there is so much in here for people of all ages to enjoy. This review is going to be little more than me endlessly singing Hardinge's praises, so for balance I will admit it's a tiny bit convoluted and probably doesn't need to be as long as it is.  That, however, is as much as I can say against it, and you can see it's not enough to knock any marks off because the whole rest of the book is so wholly unique and accomplished. I can't believe it was her debut.

The characters are phenomenal, the writing is sharp and endlessly quotable, the plot is intricate and has so much to say on the topic of free speech, the power and beauty of words and the press, herd mentality and independent thinking, and it has a few choice comments on the topic of religion to boot. It is set in a historical context, imbued with just enough fantasy to make everything magical.  The settings are so beautifully evoked by Hardinge's mastery of words that I am immensely relieved to hear there is a sequel because I am not ready to let go of this world. I don't want to spoil a single thing about it, but I also want to convince everyone to pick it up and read it. The more I reflect on this book, the more I fall in love with it. It is an absolute must for all true lovers of storytelling, books, and words.

Rating: 5/5

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