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Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge old house that inspired her to write strange stories from an early age. She read English at Oxford University, then got a job at a software company. However, by this time, a persistent friend had finally managed to bully Frances into sending a few chapters of Fly By Night, her first children's novel, to a publisher. Macmillan made her an immediate offer. The book went on to publish to huge critical acclaim and win the Branford Boase First Novel Award.
Gr 5-9-Mosca, 12, and Eponymous Clent, a traveling wordsmith of dubious repute, become immersed in the intrigues of the city of Mandelion, where rival guilds vie for power with a "pixilated" Duke and his scheming sister. Initially awed by her confusing new surroundings, Mosca gradually pieces together important truths about the realm and her place within it. Through rich, colorful language and a sure sense of plot and pacing, Hardinge has created a distinctly imaginative world full of engaging characters, robust humor, and true suspense. Readers get to know the realm and its people through the interactions between Mosca and a well-drawn cast of supporting characters. While she tries to judge right from wrong within the complex plots that ensnare her, she finds that few of the people she meets are as simple as they first seem. Vying religious beliefs also play a part in the fate of the realm, and the details develop neatly as the adventures progress. Plot twists, lively dialogue, and the antics of Mosca's fierce pet goose add plenty of humor. The conclusion addresses the value of words in a satisfying manner. This sophisticated tale is not for everyone. Some readers may struggle to keep track of the complex politics, history, and religion in Mosca's world, but those who appreciate the inventive plots of Cornelia Funke and Jonathan Stroud or Lloyd Alexander's colorful prose should thoroughly enjoy this highly original adventure.-Steven Engelfried, Beaverton City Library, OR Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Everyone should read Frances Hardinge. Everyone. Right now. -- Patrick Ness
In a broken-down medieval kingdom where reading is forbidden, 12-year-old Mosca Mye is drawn to a traveling con artist who "brought phrases as vivid and strange as spices, and he smiled as he spoke, as if tasting them." Hardinge's stylish way with prose gives her sprawling debut fantasy a literate yet often silly tone that calls to mind Monty Python. Plucky Mosca rescues the con man-called Eponymous Clent-from the town stocks, accidentally burning down her uncle's mill in the process. Their journey unfolds against a wickedly complex political backdrop, a fragmented civilization largely run by guilds of locksmiths, boatmen and printers (the only ones allowed to decide which books will survive). Mosca and Clent find themselves embroiled in intrigue between the guilds, an entry point to a sly bit of allegory involving a secret printing press and "dangerous" pamphleteers ("Truth is dangerous. It topples palaces and kills kings.... And yet there is one thing that is more dangerous than Truth. Those who would silence Truth's voice are more destructive by far," a teacher reads aloud). Along with an infusion of high-camp fantasy, Hardinge firmly plants in the novel the heroine's serious love of reading, which informs nearly everything Mosca does ("I'd been hoarding words for years," she says in an introspective moment, "buying them from peddlers and carving them secretly into bits of bark so I wouldn't forget them"). And the setting is detailed and complex enough to inspire many sequels. Ages 10-up. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.