Meg Rosoff on an original and joyous literary adventure…
I recently had the dubious pleasure of reading 10,000 children’s books – at least it felt like 10,000 – as judge of the excellent Branford-Boase prize, and as I trudged, zombie-like, through the task, one book suddenly leapt out of the pile, grabbed me by my throat and dragged me on a 300-page ride through a genre I swear I don’t even like (except when I do). I emerged at the last page exhausted and delighted and knew I was staring at a winner.
The book was Fly By Night , by first-time author Frances Hardinge, and it won the Branford-Boase prize, as well as my great respect and admiration.
It tells the story of Mosca, a strange, plain little orphan set adrift in a fantastical 18th-century England (Mandelion) with a morally suspect conman named Eponymous Clent. The author juggles a vast cast of oddball characters and a plot of Byzantine complexity, all rendered in mad, exuberant, hilarious prose. And unlike so many fantasy novels, it’s a completely human story, told with great warmth.
Fly By Night is as original and joyous a literary adventure as I’ve encountered in eons. I wish I’d written it, but even better, I know I couldn’t have.
Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge is published by Macmillan (1 405 02078 4, £12.99 hbk). Meg Rosoff’s latest book, Just in Case (0 14 132181 4, £10.99 hbk), is published by Penguin.