Fly by Night is Frances Hardinge’s first novel, but the third or fourth novel of hers that I’ve read. I liked it, and I definitely think that it’s one of the better middle grade novels out there, however it’s not my favorite of her books.
Twelve year old Mosca, who is orphaned, lives with her uncle and is smarter than most of the people in her little town. Her best friend is the goose Saracen, because outcasts stick together. When the smooth talking con-man Eponymous Clent comes to her little village, she finds herself drawn to his big words and entertaining stories. So when Clent is imprisoned, because someone spills the beans on his less then honest intentions, Mosca decides to free him and make him take her with him to his next destination. They find themselves embroiled in of a rebellion and poor Mosca, who only wants to do the right thing, finds herself uncovering plots left and right.
The book is set in world that strongly resembles 18th century England, with just a dash of the early 1600s England thrown in to add flavor. Mosca’s world is one that is governed by censorship and religious fervor, and the book has very strong messages about the importance of education and the freedom of the press. Mosca is a determined young heroine, often confused by the duplicitous of the adults around her, but she pushes through to figure out who she is and who she wants to be.
One of the things I like about Hardinge’s novels is that the question of who is good and who is bad is often muddled. Characters who seem good and nice at first turn out to be duplicitous and characters who at first impression seem evil often times have the best interests of our character at heart. Hardinge is also a master with the trick of the unreliable narrator, despite often using multiple view points to tell the story. Mosca makes decisions based on the information that she currently has, information which is not always the full story, and the reader doesn’t know this until Mosca does. Meaning that we often cheer her on when she’s making a mistake. However, I found that this made me cheer all that much loudly for her when she attempts to rectify the mistakes that she made to begin with.
It’s a charming book, and I definitely recommend it. The only downside is that there is a sequel (though there’s no cliffhanger, the book ends right when it’s supposed to) but that sequel is not available on Kindle. I’m a little frustrated by that.