Friday, September 5, 2008

Book Review: Fly By Night, by Frances Hardinge

     "Purely out of interest," Eponymous Clent asked, "what so bewitches you about the idea of the traveling life?"...
     ...Mosca raised her head and stared up the hillside toward the ragged treeline. The sky was warmed by a gentle redness suggesting a soft but radiant dawn. The true dawn was still some three hours away.
   "Very soon," Mosca said quietly, "my uncle will wake up. An' when he does...he's likely to notice that I've burned down his mill."

Summary: Mosca Mye - a girl who can read in a time when girls were permitted to do no such thing - lives in Chough, a curious place - wet all the time, swampy, and if you leave anything in the water for any length of time, it petrifies to a chalky white. Chough is situated on the fringes of what her father dubbed "The Fractured Realm," where it was commonly believed that "books were dangerous." The Realm has a long, twisted, fear-infused and politically charged history. For years, no one has been able to agree on who should rule the land, though many have tried and failed, and everyone had someone different in mind to do the leading.

One night Mosca runs away from the mill house where her aunt and uncle force her to stay. But she accidentally drops her lamp in the straw during her escape. Realizing as she watches the small flame begin to grow that she can never come back, she sets off with her formidable goose, Saracen, to find a new life. Along the way she acquires the company of a loquacious, opportunistic, and not altogether law-abiding writer named Eponymous Clent. And then, the adventure truly begins...

For Teachers and Librarians:
There are so many avenues to pursue here. You've got political issues with ruling factions, kings and other royalty, and behind-the-scenes dealings and manipulations, which merge quite nicely with a unit on the current presidential elections, or a comparison of various systems of government - with plusses and minuses to each. With Banned Books Week coming up at the end of this month, this book fits rather well in that subject, as books and printed matter are fiercely controlled in Mosca's world. How does this affect Mosca's society? How do banned books affect our society? There are educational issues to explore, as girls aren't permitted to learn to read, and schools are controlled by the same group that controls books and printed matter. You could go with a more personal theme: trust issues, right vs wrong (and all the gray areas in between), anger, fear, family relationships. You could even go with the travel angle, creating a map of "The Fractured Realm," and mark the path of Mosca's journey throughout the book, noting significant events along the way. Really, it is a gold mine just waiting to be found as far as educational possibilities go, and a gold mine as far as just plain great story goes. Fly By Night is a fantastically resourceful addition to your classroom however you choose to use it.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
If you're looking for a book that will grab the attention of both your boys and girls, this is the one! It will be hard for them to put down, as each chapter raises more questions than it answers, and will leave them madly turning pages to see how everything turns out. If you're looking to provide your kiddos with a book with a good message, here's how the author sees things in Fly By Night:

"If there is a moral it's probably something along the lines of 'read everything, question everyone, write what you like and let others do the same.'"
This is a book that works great as an independent read, and will keep them leaning closer and closer if you read it aloud. Even better, you will enjoy the story every bit as much as your kids.

For the Kids:
Mosca is a 12 year-old girl who knows what she wants. And what she wants is to have a life where people can't tell her what she can and can't do. Her dad taught her to read, even though it wasn't allowed, and he taught her how to think for herself, which was frowned upon. One day, she finds herself on her own and searching for that new life, with just her menacing pet goose for company. Soon, she meets Eponymous Clent. They travel together, with Eponymous agreeing to take her on as his secretary. They wind up in very dangerous situations, and Mosca finds herself having to make a lot of decisions all on her own. How do things turn out? There's only one way to know - ask your parents for a trip to the library or bookstore, and find Fly By Night, and read it. It's the kind of book you'll keep reading long after bedtime, under the covers, with a flashlight. Yeah, it's that good!

For Everyone Else:
This may be a children's novel, but all you teens and adults out there won't be able to resist being pulled into this story. It's so full of plot twists, danger, mystery, and even humor, you will not be able to put it down. Fly By Night is definitely a must-read for ages 9 to 99. Go ahead and give it a try. You won't be disappointed.

Wrapping Up:
Fly By Night has all the trappings of a great novel - a main character you care about, villains you want to be vanquished, injustice you hope is righted, mystery that keeps you turning pages, plot twists that keep you guessing, and a story that's just plain fun to read.

Title: Fly By Night
Author: Frances Hardinge
Pages: 512
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Harper Trophy, February 19, 2008
Edition: 1st paperback
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $7.99
ISBN-10: 0060876301
ISBN-13: 978-0060876302


  1. What a wonderful and thorough review of "Fly by Night." It is one of my favorite books so I always like to hear what others think of it. I love your author spotlight, too. What a great idea! I have just discovered your blog and can't wait to spend more time perusing your thoughts on books. I just started a blog reviewing YA books and the occasional picture book and have reviewed both of Hardinge's book on it. She has a new one, but it's only out in the UK.

    Happy Reading and keep up the great work!

    Tanya @

  2. Tanya,

    Welcome, and please come back often! I appreciate your wonderful comments! Thanks for alerting me to Frances Harding's new book. Will it come out in the States? Happy blogging!


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