fly_trap_hbEarlier this year I finally finished the Narnia series. I never read them as a kid and as I got from one book to the next I kept thinking that maybe I ought to have. By Last Battle it was clear that no, adulthood is exactly the right time to read Narnia, because at least now I’m aware of the heavy-handed indoctrination (Susan’s fate in The Last Battle, the Middle-Easterns Calormenes – urgh!) If in the future my son decides to read them, I know I’ll want us to discuss them together. (Actually, I’m curious about the general fascination with Narnia. Is it the plot or characterization? I found them rather weak. Childhood nostalgia?)

So after Narnia, I picked up another children/young adult fantasy – Fly Trap (Twilight Robbery in the UK) – and it was such a palate cleanser!

I loved Frances Hardinge’s first in the series, Fly by Night, and this one was even better. I’d also argue it can be read a stand-alone. It’s set right after Fly by Night, when the 12-year-old heroine Mosca Mye, her travel companion Eponymous Clent and Saracen, the goose, are looking for greener pastures after (accidentally) triggering a revolution. They end up in Toll, an apparently perfect town… until night falls.

Without giving too much away, in Hardinge’s world words and names have power. Each person is named according to the Saint (or Beloved) responsible for their birth day, but in Toll this has serious consequences. In Toll, all Beloveds have been divided into the bright, good ones and the villainous, dark ones. If you’re born under the right Beloved you’re allowed to live in Toll-by-Day, where life is well-organized and comfortable. Otherwise you’re banished to Toll-by-Night and for all intents and purposes you no longer exist. Mosca you see, was born under Beloved Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jams and Butter Churns. According to tradition, Palpitattle children are “judged to be villainous, verminous, and everywhere that they’re not wanted”.

Part of the plot is about how Toll go into such a society, and the rest is how Mosca deals with her status and her attempts to challenge it. And thus, once again our nomad trio find themselves entangled in new schemes and winding politics.

If I had just one word to describe Fly Trap it’d be “rich”. Rich in plot, that’s almost baroque in its twists, turns, leaps and layers. Rich in characterization, Mosca in particular is an amazing young female character, someone creative and independent, who’ll to survive at all costs, but also capable of great generosity and altruism. It’s rich in content and food for thought: the world building is the perfect basis to write about superstition and critical thinking. Or, if you want to go deeper, theology, crowd mentality and human nature. But, especially, the writing is rich. Hardinge continue to write her “gushy Valentine to the English language“. Here’s a taste:

“Revenge is a dish best served unexpectedly and from a distance – like a thrown trifle.”

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“A couple of expressions pulled Clent’s face to a fro between them, like puppies trying to fight their way out of a bag.”

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“I generally find,’ Clent murmured after a pause, ‘that it is best to treat borrowed time the same way as borrowed money. Spend it with panache, and try to be somewhere else when it runs out.’

‘And when we get found, Mr. Clent, when the creditors and bailiffs come after us and it’s payment time…’

‘…then we borrow more, madam, at a higher interest. We embark on a wilder gamble, make a bigger promise, tell a braver story, devise a more intricate lie, sell the hides of imaginary dragons to desperate men, climb to even higher and more precarious ground…and later, of course, our fall and catastrophe will be all the worse, but later will be our watchword, Mosca. We have nothing else – but we can at least make later later.”

A great read overall and I agree with Teresa 100%: it’d make the perfect Miyazaki movie!

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Other thoughts: Good Books and Good Wine, things mean a lot, David’s Book World (yours?)

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