“Just between you and me,” Mosca whispered, “radicalism is all about walkin’ on the grass.” (Fly Trap, 337)
Reading Frances Hardinge’s books are a dangerous proposition. I recommend them to everyone aged 10 and up. In Lost Conspiracy there is colonialism, cannibalism, and genocide. In Fly By Night there is religious/political terrorism, atheism, and book burning. In Fly By Night’s sequel Fly Trap there is more oppression, at least one decapitation, a lot of theft and lying, and the return of “the winged warzone” Saracen.
Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge
Harper (HarperCollins), 2011.
Hardcover, 584 pages.
Fly Trap begins 3 months after Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent leave Mandelion and, needless to say, they have landed themselves in a bit of trouble. Between Mosca, Clent, and the goose Saracen, they’ve exhausted most if not all of the settlements this side of the Langfeather. But in order to get to the other side of the river to fresh prospects, they have to pass through the only town that has managed to bridge the impossibly wide and wild river—and Toll charges a toll. Toll is also the site of a dangerous intrigue to which Mosca happens to be recently somewhat privy. Perhaps she and Clent can use the kidnapping plot to their advantage and earn a reward that will pay their toll out of the city and with some pocket money beside.
Mosca lives is a fiction place, but in many ways it would recall Victorian England. But then, Hardinge renames and remarks upon much that will be familiar to the reader. In Mosca’s world, as you learn in the first novel, there is a belief that reading is dangerous; that certain books will make you go mad. And the subversive sort of writing just might. In Fly Trap, Mosca would make money as one of the few who could read, and it does bring her to some harm, but the focus of book two shifts greater focus to another interesting facet of Mosca’s world (though you can still plainly see where an illiterate and highly-censored society will get you).
Her world is filled with the superstition that involves an enormous panoply of “Beloveds.” Hardinge uses them with delight, naming each chapter of Fly Trap after some of them, “Goodlady Battlemap, Recorder of Unmitigated Disasters,” “Goodman Parsley, Soother of Painful Mornings.” Each of the Beloveds are known for certain things, some helpful, some causing harm and/or chaos. There are so many Beloveds that they have to share days and nights, allotted certain hours in which each are observed. If you are born during a certain Beloved’s hours you are named accordingly. They have lists they consult. And with the name comes some of the Beloved’s attributes.
One of the conflicts in the first novel is Mosca’s move toward atheism, she chooses to no longer buy into the system of the Beloveds. Hardinge continues in Mosca’s decision in the second, questioning whether the presence of the Beloved a comfort or a hindrance, and whether there is some truth to beliefs created around the Beloved or even Luck. For one group of people, the Beloved are the source of a good name, for others, they are definitely a hindrance. And how much does being born under a particular Beloved influence you? How much does a name, and the belief behind the name influence your outcomes? How much of an ass can assumptions and generalizations make you look? And how helpful/harmful is profiling? The subjects of Identity and Superstition is of incredible importance in Fly Trap and Hardinge treats the novel’s exploration with humor, and the utmost seriousness.
“Eponymous—that’s Phangavotte,” snapped the Raspberry. “Mosca—that’s Palpitattle. Kenning—the Book of the Hours!”
“Phangavotte’s names are daylight…just about,” came the boy’s thin, chirping voice from within the book. “Committee of the Hours have considered it for endarkening six times thought. On grounds of Phagavotte being a patron of wile, guile, tall tales, and ruses. Acquitted on account of Phagavotte being a patron of inspiration, myth, and proud dreams.” The whisper of more pages. “Palpitattle—night. Children of Palpitattle judged to be villainous, verminous, and everywhere that they’re not wanted. Not plans to review this judgment” (89).
There is hardly a better place to explore the consequences of Identity and Superstition than in Hardinge’s town named Toll. Once paid entrance into Toll, a complicated system has been created to classify and direct each person, citizen or visitor. As no one could possibly lie about their name (deeply ingrained belief), everyone is recorded—and found out. Have you a night-name or a day-name? If you stay in Toll, those with a night-name live in Toll-by-Night, and day-names live in Toll-by-Day. If you’ve a night-name you can only pray for the re-classification of your Beloved, because Toll believes that night names are dangerous/disruptive/dystopic. As a visitor Mosca is able to walk around in the daylight hours, but only for three days, and under the weight of a great deal of scorn and distrust.
How Hardinge creates a town that shifts personality and form completely between night and day is fantastic!—and completely worth the read alone.
The terror of the night hours is palpable, as are the horrifying realizations Toll begins to create. The intrigue surrounding the town’s oddities and a kidnapping plot create the perfect fire to bring everything to boiling point. Hardinge keeps the turns coming and writes a remarkable plot. Having protagonists like Mosca Mye and Saracen help.
Mosca Mye is not a sweet-cheeked heroine of eleven/twelve. She is oft described as having “black eyes, black hair, and ferrety features.” She is refreshingly pragmatic, even if that means stealing to eat, or outright lying to kidnappers as to the content of a certain letter, or launching herself out windows. Mosca is bent on survival, but that doesn’t mean she can’t be moved; which is important to remember. It is also crucial to remember that her goose companion Saracen has a mind of his own and is dangerously predictable—he can annihilate anyone or thing in his path. He is one of the best written/imagined characters you will have the pleasure to encounter.
Hardinge truly has a wonderful sense of invention. Her characters are wonderfully realized, her settings are ideally rendered, and her use of the English language is magnificent. (If you love words, Hardinge’s novels are a pleasurable place to visit.) She is one writer who tirelessly creates beautifully formed sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters. Fly Trap, like other books of Hardinge’s before it, enchants the reader with its complicated plot and daring wit. Will Mosca, Clent, and Saracen escape Toll?—and if so, how could they possibly. Hardinge’s ability to sustain the reader with a careful balance of whimsy, pointed-statements, heart, and humor makes 584 pages bearable for any reader.
Just the same, if you believe books are as dangerous as the author and I do, you are likely a bit anxious about introducing her books to a young reader, even if they are 10 and up, because Fly Trap is full of dangerous ideas. Some people do exist, even if you do not want them to; the selfish and heartless take unsuspecting forms; cultural/physical environments do have consequences and they should be considered; perhaps one should be “everywhere that they’re not wanted;” and certainly a critical thinking child should never be underestimated when the potential for a revolution is in the offing (or even when it isn’t)…
“The heart of being a radical isn’t knowing all the right books, it isn’t about kings over the sea or the parliament over in the capital. It’s…looking at the world around you and seeing the things that make you sick to the stomach with anger. The things there’s no point making a fuss about because that’s just the way the world is, and always was and always will be. And then it means getting good and angry about it anyway, and kickin’ up a hurricane. Because nothing is writ across the sky to say the world must be this way. A tree can grow tow hundred years, and look like it’ll last a thousand more—but when the lightning strikes at last, it burns.” (378)
If you have not read Fly By Night, please do, but you can read Fly Trap and get the gist of things. Hardinge does a nice job of reminding past readers of how they got to where they are and catching new readers up on the goings on. As a sequel, Fly Trap does better than “it doesn’t disappoint;” it has that rare pleasure of if not equally, but surpassing the book one.
Fly Trap is the American release title. In England, where the author lives and her books are first published, it is called Twilight Robbery (very apt, of course) and it sports a different cover.
Also, I cannot recommend The Lost Conspiracy enough, so please add that read to your “must reads.”—I think it her best and most accessible novel. (my review.)