Goodreads: Fly by Night
Series: Fly by Night #1
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.
Fly By Night is a treasure, a book so quick-witted and lively that it seems a marvel it could be Frances Hardinge’s debut. The story breathes with inventiveness on every page, from the floating coffeehouses, to the panoply of kings and queens waiting for a triumphant return to the fractured kingdom, to the fighting goose. Loosely based on 18th-century England, the book is alive with imagined religions, politics, and intrigue. Any lover of fantasy will devour the descriptions of people, places, and things, all told with keen observation, and just a little cheek. Fly by Night is, in short, a fantasy sure to delight readers young and old.
Hardinge immersed me in her world from the very start, when readers learned that Mosca Mye was born into a kingdom where the people pray to the Beloved, gods of sort who each have a dedicated time of day and year, and who are each responsible for a different aspect of life. Readers will know that Hardinge’s work tends to have atheistic underpinnings, so the Beloved, while interesting, are also treated a bit humorously. Their areas of concern can be incredibly specific, and also a little bit strange. However, be that as it may, the people are serious about the Beloved, and the different belief systems of the realm soon becomes important as Mosca and her new guardian find themselves embroiled in city politics. A story that initially seems like a fun fantasy adventure becomes a thoughtful look at the way we use words to shape the world around us, and the way those words can be wielded for good or for ill by both the powerful and the lowly.
Words stand at the center of the story, making Fly By Night a short of homage to the power of words and the power of literature. Mosca initially runs away from home because her father’s books have been burned, and a man of letters represents a chance for a future where she can possess all the words she wants. But Mosca ends up in Mandelion, a city run by the stationers’ guild, and they control what can and cannot be printed. Anything without a stationers’ seal is viewed as corrupt, for it is said that books can make one mad. Mosca’s journey sees her transform from a young girl who believes what everyone around her says, even though it creates tension with her own desire to have all the words she chooses, to a girl who begins to desire the freedom to think for herself. In many ways, Mosca is a heroine with Enlightenment ideals in a realm still focused on the safety of tradition.
Fly by Night is a wondrous tale, one that skips and sings with beautiful words and a passion for stories. It is a book about the stories we tell ourselves, both as individuals and as a society, and the ways in which those stories can transform the world for the better or for the worse. Fantasies that make me think are some of my favorite–they are the ones that make me want to read them again and again, to discover new things, to reflect on issues I may not have thought about before. For now, I hope to return to Mosca’s world through the sequel. But I can definitely see myself reading Fly by Night again.