Monday, August 07, 2006


FLY BY NIGHT by Frances Hardinge (HarperCollins)

The great challenge of writing an enduring fantasy, I think, is inventing a world that the reader can believe in, a place that the imagination can recognize even when the logical mind cannot. J. M. Barrie could do it. Tolkein could do it. Rowling can do it. And so can Frances Hardinge.

Before I summarize, may I simply say that this was one of the slowest reads I have experienced in a long time, not because the book was uninteresting, but because I felt the need to read every sentence twice. Just as when one eats an especially lucious dessert, one has to slow down and savor every bite. "The roof of the dovecote stealthily rose, and two sets of eyes peered out through the gap. One pair of eyes were coal beads, set between a bulging bully brow and a beak the color of pumpkin peel. The other pair were human, and as hot and black as pepper." That tripped me up for a good solid day. Can't you just see them? Can't they just see us? Ohhhh, Frances Hardinge. Writers groan in homage to your magic pen.

All right, onward and upward! Mosca's story starts mysteriously with an attempt to have the world explained to her by her fervent and embittered father, whose intelligence and love of language clearly have made him a pariah. His gift, or curse as it may be, is passed on to his daughter, who is also viewed as an outsider with a witch-like ability to read. She is destined to leave the soggy town of Clough accompanied by her familiar Saracen, an ill-tempered goose, and Eponymous Clent, a conman of the first degree. His turn of phrase romances most irresistably the part of Mosca's heart that yearns for the beauty of words that is so gravely repressed in her Fractured Realm. Drawn into great intruiges, Mosca's experiences are woven into a cloth of politics, religion and history, all imaginative, inspired and timely.

The cover invites us: "Imagine a world in which all books have been banned." It doesn't take much imagination, as this world is drawn for us line for line in extraordinary, enviable language, and we wonder what will happen to Mosca, a reader in a world without readers. Some may complain that this book is too hard for children, and the complexity does make this hefty novel a challenge...but older, confident readers, fans of Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS TRILOGY (Knopf) and Cornelia Funke's INKHEART (Scholastic) should have no trouble navigating these pages, and others will benefit from a loving and attentive read-aloud by a grown-up fantasy fan. (11 and up)

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1 comment:

fusenumber8 said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Best Damn Book of the Year. Bar none.


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