Iowa City Public Library's Reviews > Fly by Night

Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge
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bookshelves: jason, staff-picks-blog, young-adult

Among the many changes that came with the publication success of the Harry Potter series was the freedom to publish books for children and teens with a longer page count. I’m not saying this is always a great thing; in fact lately I’ve grown quite tired of seeing yet another bloated fantasy pushing 600 pages (I’m looking in your direction Mr. Paolini!). But occasionally a slightly-pudgy gem comes along that vindicates J.K.

Frances Hardinge’s 483 page book Fly By Night uses the extra words to good effect. This is a complex tale involving an orphaned girl living in a politically tumultuous England of an alternate history (based on the 18th Century lifestyle). The pacing varies, but there are plenty of scenes involving espionage and characters being chased and nearly caught.

More than the plot though, this is mostly a story written as a gushy Valentine to the English language. Hardinge is blessed with an amazing vocabulary and clever imagination. We meet characters with names such as Mosca Mye, born on the day of "Goodman Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns," hence her name Mosca or fly, from the Latin musca. Then there is Eponymous Clent, Mabwick Toke, Vocado Avourlace, Arami Goshawk, and who could forget Linden Kohlrabi (I’ve been waiting years for someone to make good literary use of the word ‘Kohlrabi’!). She writes lines that will challenge the average 5-9th grade reader, but they will be rewarded by staying with her for the journey. An example of her writing style is seen early on as Mosca attempts an escape from her prison in her Uncle’s mill:

"It had made perfect sense to grab armfuls from the gorse stacks which the village used as fuel, and pile them against the wall. And when she had clambered up to the top of the wall, ignoring the sweet smell of dying summer and the stems which prickled against her face, it had made sense to light an oil lamp. She did not remember deciding to drop the lamp, but nor did she remember it exactly slipping from her grasp. What she did remember was watching it fall away from her hand, and bounce so softly from one stack to another that it seemed impossible that it should break. She remembered seeing the wrecked lamp sketch a faint letter in white smoke shortly before the dry stems around it started to blacken and a hesitant flame wavered first blue, then gold … and she remembered a rushing thrill of terror as she realized that there was no going back to her old life. Now, as Mosca and Clent fled Chough, the wind followed them like a helpful stranger, offering them the smell of smoke from the burning mill as if it thought it might belong to them."

Bravo to Frances Hardinge (and her editor) for writing a complicated but gorgeous tale for the younger crowd. --Jason

From ICPL Staff Picks Blog
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 15, 2010 – Shelved
July 15, 2010 – Shelved as: jason
July 15, 2010 – Shelved as: staff-picks-blog
July 15, 2010 – Shelved as: young-adult

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