Reading Frances Hardinge is all about Saracen, for me. Saracen the evil-eyed bully-boy goose.
Of course, there is also Mosca, his owner. This is a world where so many little gods – the Beloved – are worshipped that rather than having their own day, the Beloved have certain hours of a day devoted to them; being born in a Beloved’s time determines your name and, in people’s eyes, your very nature. Mosca was born at the time of Palpitattle, He Who Keeps Flies out of Jam and Butterchurns – Lord of the Flies, if you will. It is an inauspicious name, to say the least, and Mosca’s fierce black eyes and equally fierce temper, and occasional propensity for playing fast and loose with the strict letter of the law, do not help her case. Nor does her ownership and protectiveness of a certain winged warrior. She is wonderful.
There’s also Eponymous Clent, Mosca’s… well. Friend? Protector? She wouldn’t like either of those terms. Co-conspirator, perhaps; ally, usually. Swindler, con-man, runner-away-from-debts and hater of Saracen, Eponymous can usually be relied on to talk his and Mosca’s way out of the trouble that he or she has managed to talk them into. Except at the beginning of this story, where he is in a debtor’s prison and for some reason the town doesn’t seem willing to accept poetry in lieu of actual currency.
Saracen plays a small, though vital, part in the story, just as he did in the preceding novel, Fly By Night – one of my favourite YA books. This time, despite the important role Mosca and Eponymous played in Mandelion, they find themselves once again on the road with little coin for bread or board. Deciding to head for the other side of the river, they find themselves in Toll, a town which prides itself on having the only real bridge across the Langfeather. As with many towns with such a precious commodity and monopoly, Toll is pretty smug. It’s also really, really weird, with some serious discrepancies between Toll-by-Day and Toll-by-Night, which of course Mosca and Eponymous and Saracen end up finding out all about. They just can’t seem to help themselves; start off with a good con or maybe a chance at a reward, ending up uncovering all sorts of interesting things that all sorts of interesting people would prefer to keep covered, thanks all the same, and can I roast your goose?
Hardinge has a wonderful way with words, and is a deft hand at descriptive prose; she’s created a really interesting world here. It’s a fantasy insofar as it’s not our she’s writing about; but at the same time there it’s not magical, nor steampunk. It’s just a world maybe on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, quite comfortable in itself as a rule even if most cities and provinces aren’t entirely sure who should be ruling them. I really hope there is more Mosca Mye to come.