Frances Hardinge is English, order I believe, and this is either her first novel or the first one available in America. Oddly enough, I read a British copy of it. The cover’s a little odd, and so’s the story, for that matter. It’s definitely aimed at a middle-reader audience, though: one with a healthy sense of the macabre. The British printing also has gold touches on the cover, which unfortunately wear off onto the reader’s hands after a few readings.
Mosca Mye is born into a world that is a fictionalized version of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England. There are two religions; one was the general religion of everybody, involving many little gods, their statues, and their days. The other religion was a new one, supposedly based on the teachings of the old religion, and involved birds. It caused a lot of people to fight and a lot of bloodshed, and eventually it was overthrown and the people re-adopted the old religion. Other than the religion, the world is run by a few different guilds, primarily the Stationers’ (Printers) Guild and the Locksmiths’ Guild. Politically, it’s divided up into a lot of different principalities and dukedoms, and the setting for the majority of the book is the dukedom of Mandelion. The Duke of Mandelion is a bit mad, and his sister, the Lady Tamarind, spends most of her time managing him and the rest of the country.
Anyway, Mosca is born into a soggy backwater town where the water is so hard that nearly everyone’s eyebrows are coated with white minerals. Her father, who teaches her to read despite the fact that it’s frowned upon for girls, dies when she’s eight. Mosca moves in with her aunt and uncle, but by the time she’s twelve she’s so fed up with them that she burns their factory down and hitches a ride out of town with a con man named Eponymous Clent. Clent and Mosca go to Mandelion, ostensibly because he knows people there. They get caught up, separately and together, in a political tangle involving illegally printed books, several different rulers, murder, secret schools, religion, and Mosca’s dad. There’s also a goose involved, named Saracen, who is murderous but quite good friends with Mosca. Continue reading Fly by Night, by Frances Hardinge