Here’s another young adult novel for you, folks, although I wouldn’t recommend this one very highly. It has its shining moments, and there were definitely things I enjoyed about it, but it’s not something I’m demanding everyone put on their reading lists.
Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge tells the story of young Mosca Mye, a twelve year old orphan who runs away from her abusive uncle, but not before she burns his mill to the ground. She throws in her lot with a man named Eponymous Clent, a wordsmith and spy. Her goose Seneca also tags along for the ride. All books in this fictional kingdom that do not have the stamp of approval from a guild known as the Stationers is banned. In the capital city, Mosca and Clent are caught up in a war between the Stationers and another guild known as the Locksmiths. They are the two most powerful guilds in the kingdom, and Mosca must work hard to uncover the truth about the plot to control the ruling figure. It is a world in which no one can be trusted, for everyone is either a spy or has his own hidden agenda.
The novel is supposedly loosely based on 17th Century England, though there are no references to anything resembling true historical names or places. The whole novel is a little bit whimsical, and if my description of the plot seems a little confusing and difficult to follow, that’s because the plot itself is confusing and difficult to follow at times. Everything is a little disjointed, and my mind struggled to comprehend all that was happening. The names, as well, are baffling and difficult to keep sorted. Altogether I felt that the novel was a disorganized mess.
That said, I will assert that it was creative. My favorite thing about the novel is its floating coffee shops. On the River Slye, which I presume represents the Thames, there are coffee houses which dock along the bank, cutting loose and sailing up and down river when necessary. Because they technically exist outside of the bounds of the city, they are controlled by neither the Stationers nor the Locksmiths, and are therefore the origin for any rebellion that may be in the works. Most of the best scenes in the novel take place in these coffee shops, and they are what redeemed the novel for me a bit.
I had trouble deciding whether Mosca was an agreeable character or not. She is fractious, stubborn, willful, and crude, but is also motivated and guided by a higher morality than many of her fellow characters. She is nowhere near a dainty lady, though she idolizes one, and though this is rather charming in itself, it does seem to be the pattern for a large group of young adult novels these days. The tom-boyish runaway girl is no longer a unique concept, and Mosca joins an ever-growing parade of the same cookie-cutter character. I wish that this author, or any author, would do something a little unique with their female heroines for once.
As I said, I don’t recommend this very highly. For those actively seeking something to read, feel free to pick it up. For those whose reading lists are as long as mine, you aren’t missing much by passing on it.