Book review of Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge

This author is surely one of a kind!
A dystopian fantasy world summoned from a delightful riot of words.
Mosca Mye flees the dreary and oppressing place of Chough with her dangerously mischievous and notorious pet goose Saracen, after accidentally setting her cruel uncle’s mill on fire. She is the daughter of Quillam Mye, a radical who is no more. Only legacies he has left her are her love for words and her name. She lives and finds comfort in a world of words. So it is no surprise when she crosses path with Eponymous Clent, a traveling wordsmith, conman and spy, that she decides to join him on his journey hoping for a better future in Mandelion and access to schooling.
As the story unfolds we become familiarized with the current political landscape. One dominated by guilds of Stationers, Watermen and Locksmiths, followed by remnants of monarchy and the dreaded radical religious movement of Birdcatchers who seem to be reappearing on the scene after they were believed to have been killed. It is a rather dim landscape where all books and writing apart from the approved ones are banned, and a few groups control all aspects of the realms. As the story progresses protagonist Mosca Mye gets embroiled in the political intrigue at the crux of the story.
Each line in the book appears carefully and lovingly crafted. But does not come across as contrived. Rather the effect is effortlessly dazzling. It is listed under fantasy genre, though the setting appears to be an alternate dark and twisted version of 19th century England with no explicit magic. The fantastical elements are conjured by the absurdly beautiful narrative with its outlandish metaphors and similes brimming with dry and crackling humour.
Apart from being an unconventional literary treasure and a celebration of language that tests the limits of its delightful usage, you realize the intricate complexity woven into the plot, as each layer is revealed in chapters that are appropriately named after each letter of the alphabet.
The character names are bizarre yet fit right into the narrative.
From the fascinating Lady Tamarind, who leaves a life-changing and lasting impression on Mosca Mye, Captain Blythe the Highway man to Eponymous Clent, the character sketches are very distinct and etched, in the manner of speech and choice of words, apart from physical attributes.
A recommended read for avid readers who love a play on words and don’t mind lingering over outrageous sentences crafted to wicked perfection, apart from enjoying the engrossing plot with a thrilling pace.
I saw the intended target reading level as middle grade. For kids in that age group, the violence in the book might be over the top, grotesque and sinister, though not gross and more implied than obvious. The shades of political satire and intrigue may be too complex for this reading level. But depends on the maturity level of the reader.

You can find the book here –


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