Having discovered who her mother is and wanting to rescue Nate, who might be the love of her life and has been kidnapped by the Sea Goddess Sedna, Beatrice Shakespeare Smith – Bertie – sets out into the world with four miscreant fairies and one devious air-elemental. And this is where one really big difference between the first and second books occurs: the setting. Where the casual magic of the Theatre Illuminata kind of made sense because it’s a theatre, and it seems to occupy a space not really connected to a particular time or space, the ‘real’ world is meant to be just that. So the magic of Bertie’s words, and of some of the other characters met along the way, seemed slightly more out of place. Perhaps this is because I was expecting the story to be more grounded in particularity – perhaps Bertie’s ‘real’ (non-theatre) world isn’t meant to be any more ‘my’ real world at all.
That’s maybe a quibble, but it did still sit at the back of my mind gnawing a bit. There were a couple of other things that gnawed, including Bertie’s relationship with and attitude towards both Nate and Ariel. I’m not a fan of the love triangle at the best of times, and this one made me uncomfortable because I couldn’t tell which one I thought she would, or should, end up with! Perhaps silly, but there you go. I also occasionally had difficulty telling whether something was actually happening to Bertie in the real world, or whether it was a dream, or if it was happening for real but in an other place. It may well be that Mantchev was blurring boundaries deliberately, but I found that this confusion threw me out of the story occasionally.
Nonetheless, I did enjoy this novel. Mantchev has a delightful turn of phrase and it’s fast-moving enough that I basically read it in a sitting (helps that I am on holidays). Bertie continues to be an enjoyable and engaging heroine, who develops by necessity as she encounters difficulties and as she considers the holds that people have on her, and how to be her own person. The fairies are still winsome and incorrigible, and have renewed my own interest in pie. Ariel… continues to be problematic. I don’t especially like The Tempest, but should I ever bother to see it again I will certainly have difficulty viewing him without Mantchev-glasses (I will also suffer from Dan-Simmons-glasses when watching Caliban, so maybe I really ought not to see it again. Oh so sad). The plot, as I said, was fast-moving and had some fun bits, but I think suffers with comparison to the first book. That was so tight, and focussed around one really core issue, that it felt utterly of a piece. Here, although rescuing Nate is central, the action feels more episodic and bound together much more loosely.
I’m intrigued that there is a third (and, I think, final) book in the series; it will be very interesting to see where Mantchev takes Bertie et al next.
I was going to mix n match their feet and bodies, to have different colours – which I think is what Rebecca Danger does – but J voted for matched, so here they are… sans faces…
We decided that different expressions were the way to go, too.
These little cuties are for a one-year-old whose existence I learned of on about her birthday. She is the daughter of a woman who was an exchange student in my home many, many years ago with whom my mum and I have stayed in occasional contact. It sounds like the pregnancy was quite traumatic, but the picture we received of the girl today is adorable so hopefully it has turned out for the best, and will continue to do so!
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.