Hardinge, Frances. Twilight Robbery
. London: Macmillan, 2011. [In the United States as Fly Trap
Six years ago after purchasing a truly massive (2kg) Cadbury bar at the mall in Derry, Northern Ireland, I popped round into a little bookshop called The Bookworm, which proved to be yet another treasure trove of books. No one told me that Ireland is the paradise of English-language bookshops, but it is. I picked up a great many excellent books on that trip, from Kenny's in Galway to The Bookstore in Carndonagh to Waterstone's in Dublin and many shops in between. One of the books at The Bookworm that caught my eye, however, was a book called Fly By Night
by Frances Hardinge. I bought it, devoured it, loved it, went back and bought another copy for a friend, and spent the next six years haunting English-language bookshops on two continents looking for more of Hardinge's books. This fall I wised up and let the internet provide them for me. Twilight Robbery
is the sequel to Fly By Night
, and it's just as thrillingly, heart-stoppingly excellent and wonderful as its predecessor. It is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. If I haven't made this clear enough yet: GO READ FLY BY NIGHT, YOU WILL LOVE IT. YES, I MEAN YOU. Where has Mosca Mye been in my life these past six years. #twilightrobbery
The books are set in a very, very alternate post-Revolution England, in which the London equivalent is a city named Mandelion and the part of the Puritans was played by a group of monotheists called the Birdcatchers, since the old religion was one of multitudinous little godlings called the Beloved. Every hour of the day and night is sacred to one or another Beloved, and it is tradition that people be named for the Beloved in whose hour they were born. Mosca Mye has the misfortune to be born under Goodman Palpitattle, the Beloved of flies who has no good reputation among gentlefolk, and consequently she grows up too smart, too sarcastic, and too independent for her own good. After her father's death she and her faithful, semi-homicidal goose Saracen strike out for Mandelion, where they have a series of awesome adventures, recounted in Fly By Night
, before striking out from the city two steps ahead of the people pursuing them on the trail of their fortune. They are accompanied by the Stationer spy Eponymous Clent--the Stationers being one of the many Guilds that now have de facto oligarchical control over the Realm, since the multitudinous contenders for the empty throne have not managed to attract enough popular or political support for any one of them to regain it. Twilight Robbery: Frances Hardinge does Beszel/Ul Qoma, and Omelas.Twilight Robbery
soon finds our heroes in the toll town of Toll, down on their luck, hard up for cash, and under the guns of a three-day term limit for their stay in the daylight side of the town, after which they will be consigned either to the daylight or nighttime sides based on their names--though living in the same spaces, each side of the town is obliged to pretend that the other half doesn't exist during their designated hours. No surprise, Mosca is slated for the nightside, a dismal dystopia in the grip of the Locksmiths, the most fearsome of all the guilds and one with which Mosca and Clent have already had some dealings. It's clear that Hardinge is drawing on, to some extent, China Miéville's excellent The City & the City
, but as I continued along in the novel I realized that she was also doing her own take on Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" too. It's typical Mosca that she makes a totally perpendicular choice to the sets of options that either of those stories offer. Mosca Mye would not walk away from Omelas. Mosca Mye would burn that whole city down. #twilightrobbery
I don't think I can fully express just how much I love Mosca Mye. After an additional six years of reading YA/middle grade books, Mosca is even more of a revelation than she was the first time. I love her sarcasm, her cynicism, her hard-bitten capacity for mayhem, her good heart and her well-hidden idealism despite the odds, and most of all I love her radical political principles and her budding atheism. I've complained before about how little love for democracy there is in fantasy literature, or republicanism, small R, and that is one complaint I will never have to make about Hardinge, or about Mosca. They know where their politics are, and they stick to those politics, even in the face of some very determined opposition. Along the way, Mosca learns some home truths about what's in a name, and what isn't, in a way that feels true
, partly because it's hard. Oh go on, underestimate Mosca some more, I'm sure that will work out well for you. #twilightrobbery
The other thing I love about these books is the sheer inventive wordsmithing verve of Hardinge's prose. At times she is laugh-outloud funny, and she never, ever resorts to a hackneyed turn of phrase because she doesn't have to.
Mosca could not help feeling that the "poor dear" might have a point about the likelihood of disaster. Having tasted Toll-by-Night's moonlit stew of murder, menace, treachery and pursuit, she had fallen wildly in love with the six shabby bolts that held the door shut and the danger out. Her new regalia did not make her feel any better about venturing out either. There was no help for it however. Time was not on their side… (286)
I haven't seen the U.S. versions of either of these books except in passing on bookstore shelves; I don't think the U.S. title for this book is as terrible as some of the other retitles of Hardinge's books. (The terrible titles and U.S. localization may be part of the reason Hardinge is so undeservedly unknown here.) I've heard that it's possible to get the unlocalized books in e-form, and the internet is quite happy to provide you with the actual British paperbacks. In any case, I can't recommend Hardinge highly enough, and I'm so looking forward to reading her other books. Just finished Twilight Robbery. This book may well be perfect.