Book By Book
My third Big Book this summer (for my annual Big Book Summer Challenge) was Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge, a middle-grade/teen novel. Most of my Big Books read each summer come from my own overflowing shelves, but this one takes the prize, having sat on my shelf since its release in 2005! I wanted to read it but just never seemed to get to it. That’s what the Big Book Summer Challenge is all about! That gave me the extra motivation to finally read this exciting, action-packed adventure set in an unfamiliar world.
Twelve-year-old Mosca was orphaned when her father died when she was eight years old. Now living with a cruel uncle who keeps her locked up at night, Mosca is eager to escape and see more of the world than her damp hometown of Chough. Mosca lives in a world where books are forbidden:
“Everyone knew that books were dangerous. Read the wrong book, it was said, and the words crawled around your brain on black legs and drove you mad, wicked mad. It did not help that she was the daughter of Quillam Mye, who had come to Chough from Mandelion amid rumors of banishment, bringing city thoughts crackling with cleverness and dozens of dark-bound, dangerous books. Mosca might as well have been the local witch in miniature.”
Having been taught to read by her father, Mosca is very smart and eager to learn, but reading and learning are not readily available in her world. When a stranger named Eponymous Clent comes to town and gets locked up in the stockades as a con man, Mosca sees her chance to escape her suffocating town and see the world. She steals the keys and frees Clent, on the condition that he take her – and her beloved goose, Saracen – with him. He grants her the position of his secretary, with the intention of getting rid of her as soon as possible, and the two escape into the dark night. Once they arrive in Mandelion, they encounter political turmoil, evil plots to overthrow the government, secret schools, a hidden printing press, and much more.
I struggled a bit with this book at first simply because of the density of new information, but it grew on me. It is categorized as fantasy, though there is no magic or special powers or fantastical animals. But it does take place in a completely made-up world, with its own unique geography, politics, names, and terminology. Once I adjusted to that and became more familiar with the world, I ended up enjoying the novel very much. It is full of action, suspense, and adventure, as Mosca and Clent first work toward their own goals and later get pulled into the larger conspiracies and intricacies of their world. Most of all, I enjoyed the subtle tongue-in-cheek humor of the story, as evident in the sample paragraph above and the clever names and turns of phrase throughout. This twisty, imaginative adventure story starring such a smart and capable young heroine captured my heart. It looks like the author also wrote a sequel, Fly Trap, which sounds just as enticing.
483 pages, HarperCollins
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