Such a lovely book from a criminally underrated YA author.
Fly By Night is the story of Mosca Mye, a twelve-year-old girl who burns down her uncle and aunt's mill and runs away with the scoundrel Eponymous Clent and her goose Saracen to the bustling and vibrant city of Mandelion, where print is dangerous and where the guilds squabble for supremacy. There's a plot in motion in Mandelion which threatens to topple the city and the realm into open war, and Mosca and Eponymous soon find themselves at the heart of it.
Why do I love this book? Let me count the ways:
1. Hardinge's way with words. Fly By Night is a book about words, about the power that words have to change the world, and Hardinge clearly loves words, and the way she uses them, with wit and precision and just right-ness, is startling without ever getting in the way of telling a good story. She makes Mandelion come alive, its sounds and its smells and its sheer mind-boggling detail.
Mosca wet her lips, took a breath and began to speak. She pulled out rags of wedding words she had heard by listening through the thin marriage-house walls. She patched them with pompous-sounding phrases from her father's books. She stitched the whole together with the scarlet thread of her own imagination.
2. Mosca Mye. Mosca Mye is not your average YA heroine. Born under the inauspicious sign of Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns, she is an arsonist, a liar and a thief. She is not pretty, and she is not well-spoken. Think of Lyra Belacqua from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, and you've got someone very like Mosca. In a society very loosely based on England at the start of the eighteenth century, which is to say, a sexist society, she chooses to do things which women don't traditionally do: read and write, wear breeches, avoid romantic subplots. She is not a good girl, and she is real and sharp-witted and wonderful.
3. Steampunk. That is all.
4. Under the twisty, fast-paced yarn Hardinge tells us, Fly By Night is also packed with a wealth of thought about writing, religion, politics and power, to name just a few. It's intelligent without being didactic and thoughtful without being boring, which is a rare enough trick to make it worthwhile mentioning.
5. Oh, just read it.