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“The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”
― Voltaire

Fly fun

Fly Trap (Fly By Night) - Frances Hardinge

Troubles again! Unfortunately, Mosca Mye, Eponymous Clent and the goose Saracen have run into so many complications with their latest scheme that they’ve run through the first, second, and third back-up plans.

 

“Quaternary plan!’ gasped Clent. ‘Creative panic!’”

 

But at least Saracen is on their side, although Mosca needs to be cautioned by Clent against unleashing the power of the goose. “‘Be it even so, now is the time for calm calculation… and not for sending your web-footed apocalypse on a one-goose rampage…’”

 

The story begins with Saracen, who has been holding a village hostage with his belligerent behavior, and indirectly, Clent and Mosca for the damages he’s caused.

 

“Saracen, who had been swaggering to and fro in some uncertainty, was delighted to see Mosca on her feet and screaming at somebody. At last he knew how to choose his enemy. There was a froth of white wings, and a splash…”

 

I must say how much I love irascible, bullying goose. Hardinge is particularly clever in avian characterization, keeping him very goose-like and leaving the details of his skirmishes behind flying feathers and howls of anguish. I suspect I find him particularly amusing because I have a Saracen of my own, an Amazon parrot that occasionally struts across the floor (he can fly, but for some reason chooses to walk during these little displays, perhaps the better to parade), bound for the lower rungs of a desk chair that he considers a back-up lair. Woe betide any toes or unsuspecting ankles coming to use the computer. Once, my mother complained she had to climb on top of the chair to escape after being subjected to his bloody ambush. I could only laugh–there is something so absurd about the power of 800 grams holding 60 kilograms hostage. David and Goliath, indeed. I share that anecdote to say that Hardinge captures that avian swagger well, and if she is exaggerating, it is likely by only a little.

 

So the quick sum is that Mosca and Clent are in a hard spot after leaving Mandelion, Clent particularly so as he languishes in debtor’s prison. Mosca takes a scribe job to earn enough coin for bail, but is caught in a double-cross. She’s resourceful, however, and after aid from an old acquaintance, they make haste for the open road. Unfortunately, the choice of destination is somewhat limited by Clent’s reputation, so they find themselves headed toward the town of Toll, a gateway to the eastern counties. Toll is very unusual, for more than just their critical control of the only bridge spanning a gorge that divides the country. They’ve made a science of the many little gods, and have assigned ‘dayshift’ or ‘nightshift’ to each one based on their characteristics. Unfortunately, they’ve also done the same to people, since people are named after the god in ascendance during their birth. Clent and Mosca have three days to come up with enough money to pay the exit fees to leave Toll, or they’ll be permanently assigned–Clent to the day, Mosca to the night. The main story takes place in Toll, where there’s thievery, love, duplicity, dungeons, damsels in distress, the strange habits of the inhabitants at dawn and dusk, and, of course, rebellion.

 

“‘Just between you and me,’ Mosca whispered, ‘radicalism is all about walkin’ on the grass.’”

 

Plotting is more singly focused than Fly by Night; the chief goal is to escape Toll, and action is centered around a strategy to earn money. When I was nice and settled into the plot, Hardinge again surprised, managing a clever plot twist as well as a completely satisfactory ending, even when I wasn’t sure it could be done.

 

Hardinge continues to impress with her imagination, both in setting and in word-smithing. She does amazing things with the town geography, and I can’t help but imagine a movie based on such a vision. I like the characterization; Clent and Mosca are so layered they achieve a rare dimensionality. Clent, in particular, shows the disenchanted but resigned acceptance adulthood often brings, while Mosca remains full of passion and youthful ideas of right and wrong. Perhaps my only complaint is an emphasis on Mosca’s irritable disposition; while it is usually connected to feelings of justice, her contrariness started to feel a little repetitive. I missed the Mosca that was filled with joy from words, learning and discovery of the larger world.

 

Hardinge still has a way with words, a playfulness that has me smiling as I read:

 

“‘So… the doors have been blocked.’ Clent was clearly becoming uneasy. ‘Plague, possibly. Or giant rats…’ He was blinking rapidly, as if his eyes had noticed that his words were not improving morale and were desperately signaling to his mouth to stop moving.

 

“When she was at last woken by a young ostler politely and carefully stepping on her head in his attempts to rake out the dead coals…”

 

“A couple of expressions pulled Clent’s face to a fro between them, like puppies trying to fight their way out of a bag.”

 

Thematically, there is an interesting and indirect exploration of the power of names and the accident of birth. It leads to an even more interesting exploration of the power of social pressure–do you believe the expectations society ascribes to you because of class? Rise or sink to the occasion? I enjoyed the way Hardinge explores the issue without becoming pedantic or making Mosca into a straw-girl for an Important Life Lesson.

 

Overall, a great read that was highly satisfying on a number of levels. Hardinge’s made herself a spot on my ‘must-read’ authors.