Sunday, August 07, 2011


Fly Trap, Frances Hardinge, HarperCollins Publishers, 2011, 584 pp


While reading Fly Trap, I was struck by how fantasy, in all its many forms and for any given age group, just might be the most fun one can have as a reader. Who can ever forget their first reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe or The Children of the Amulet? Portals to other worlds, strange creatures, and odd twists of time are such lovely flights of imagination in which not everything has to make sense. Always there is the delicious thrill of evil lurking, and always a hero or heroine equal to overcoming that evil.

So while Fly Trap is intended for readers age 11-13, I would recommend it to any reader who is still willing to be transported into another world. Mosca Mye is a fabulous heroine, equal to Harry Potter or Philip Pullman's Lyra Belaqua, and yet is uniquely herself. "Drips fell from the tip of a pointed nose. Beneath a drooping bonnet with a frayed brim, hair spiked and straggled like a tempest-tossed blackbird's nest. An olive green dress two sizes too big was hitched at the waist and daubed knee-high in thick yellow mud. And behind the clinging strands of damp hair, two large black eyes glistened like coal and gave the marketplace a look that spoke of coal's grit, griminess, and hidden fire." That is Mosca - orphan, scrapper, nearly always hungry and cold, careening through life righting wrongs and dreaming of warmth, food and a soft bed.

Her animal companion is an equally hungry goose, Saracen, who also acts as bodyguard. Her human companion and partner in crime is the poet and grifter Eponymous Clent, a man with a quick wit and a horror of a day's work, who is usually talking his way out of the latest disaster he created. The three arrive in Toll hoping to make their way to warmer, more prosperous lands for the winter. Naturally Toll is not what it seems, and they are instantly entangled in both their own deep troubles as well as the twisted circumstances of the town. It is the role of Eponymous to come up with plans, which Mosca carries out despite any amount of hardship and danger.

Toll is a town that serves as the sole gateway from one area to another; it is as two sided as a coin, with daytime and nighttime set simultaneously in the same streets, markets and alleys, though never can the two meet or interact. In this world, a person's place and name is determined by his or her hour of birth. Every house has a patron saint, a little god called a Beloved, and Mosca's Beloved is Palpitattle - He Who Keeps Flies Out of Jams and Butter Churns - explaining Mosca's name, which means housefly. In this town, all are subject to their names and Beloveds, except the Locksmiths who play day against night in an effort to control everything.

In a story of non-stop action and incident, Frances Hardinge magically manages to fill in the back-story from the first volume in the series, Fly By Night, and explain the religion of the Beloveds, the politics of Toll, and the dastardly goal of the evil Locksmiths. Her description of how Toll-by-Day becomes Toll-by-Night rivals the writing of Neil Gaiman and China Mieville. Possibly because I am an adult, I got weary of reading what started to seem an endless tale and thought Hardinge could have left off about 100 pages without harm. However, I remember being of a reading age where the longer the book the better, so I doubt that younger readers would have the same problem.

No matter your age, I highly recommend Fly Trap to those who like the fantasy genre. It would make a great read for a middle-school book group as well.

(Fly Trap is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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