skygiants: Mosca Mye, from the cover of Fly Trap (the fly in the butter)
I was resigned to waiting until October 17th for A Skinful of Shadows to come out in the US. However, [personal profile] izilen, horrified at both the long wait after the UK publication and the clear inferiority of the US cover, acquired a copy on my behalf and mailed it over the ocean -- after first warning me it was the darkest Frances Hardinge book yet.

Having now read it, I don't know that it's actually that much creepier than the first third of Cuckoo Song, or the bits of Lie Tree where Faith in her deepest self-loathing slithers snakelike through the island purposefully destroying everything she touches. It definitely has a higher body count -- a much higher body count -- but I mean it's a book about a.) ghosts and b.) the English Civil War so maybe that's to be expected ...?

Like many of Hardinge's books, it features:
- a ferocious underestimated girl struggling to hold onto a sense of self in a world that wishes her to have no such thing
- a recognition that the people you love and who believe that they love you will sometimes betray you, sometimes for reasons they believe are good and sometimes not
- a ruthless and terrible female antagonist whom the heroine cannot help but respect and admire
- a struggling journey up out of solitude towards a coalition built of necessity with the least likely individuals
- including an undead bear
- admittedly this is the first Hardinge book to include an undead bear
- it is also the first Hardinge book about literal ghosts, a lot of ghosts, a lot of very unpleasant and sinister ghosts but also some ghosts for whom I have a very deep affection, including the very bearlike bear.

I also have a great deal of affection for Makepeace - the illegitimate scion of a very old noble family that is quite confident it will be able to chew her up and spit her out, and finds itself repeatedly mistaken. I don't think I love her yet quite as much as Trista or Faith or Mosca, but that's what I said about Faith right after I read The Lie Tree, too, and LOOK AT ME NOW.
skygiants: Kraehe from Princess Tutu embracing Mytho with one hand and holding her other out to a flock of ravens (uses of enchantment)
I've read maybe four fics in the Yuletide archive so far that weren't gifted to me -- my own gifts were so amazing and plentiful (THANKS FOR A PERFECT FIC, [personal profile] fahye, YOU DELIGHTFUL RIDICULOUS HUMAN) and then things have been so busy since that I have not had the time! I am very much looking forward to working through everything in a slow and leisurely fashion over the next year. :D

As for what I wrote:

The Raptor, Ladyhawke

I hadn't thought about this delightfully ridiculous 80's film in years -- I actually matched with my recipient on Casablanca -- but when I saw she was asking for prequel fic with, like, actual logistics ... and historical context .... I COULD NOT RESIST. How would you cope if one day you're a fairly ordinary medieval lady and the next day you're spending half your time as an angry bird?

Due to the fact that I am in no way a medieval scholar, this is a fic that was even more of a collaborative effort than usual. I am enormously grateful to actual medieval scholars [personal profile] rymenhild and [personal profile] izilen for brainstorming historical plausibility with me, [personal profile] izilen again for going through and catching all my accidental anachronisms, and [personal profile] genarti and [personal profile] newredshoes for betaing!

Ecdysis, The Lie Tree

Faith, Paul, and ill-advised adventures in Victorian photography!

I'd sort of forgotten that [personal profile] gogollescent made almost exactly the same Lie Tree request I did until it went out on the pinch-hit list, after which I was like "well, probably no one else is going to write Lie Tree fic so I may as well give it a go" ... OH, HOW WONDERFULLY WRONG I WAS. In addition to the adorable Lie Tree fic I myself received, you should also read Gogol's other gift, The Transformation, which features a Faith of a pitch-perfect terrifying fierceness that I can only dream of capturing. I am proud of the Victorian photography details, though. This was a very research-heavy Yuletide year!
skygiants: ran and nijiko from 7 Seeds, looking faintly judgy (dubious lesbians)
My day started out with a cat throwing up in my bedroom at 4 AM (three hours after I went to bed), after which I fled the house to catch a 7:30 AM bus to New York, which promptly broke down half an hour out. It's fine though! We've got another bus and also I can't really be annoyed at anything because a.) once I finally get to New York I have a great day of Jewish Christmas planned with cousins and friends and Chinese food and possibly screwball comedy and b.) I AM STILL BUSY SCREAMING INTERNALLY ABOUT HOW MUCH I WON YULETIDE THIS YEAR, like?? I've had some amazing Yuletide years in the past, but this is ABOVE AND BEYOND.

I got all the stuff I was convinced I was least likely to get --

A Moment of Utter Stillness, happy-ending postcanon fic for Frances Hardinge's The Lie Tree, one of my favorite books to come out this year? Featuring Further Adventures of Paul and Faith, two of my best beloved terrible children in a long roster of terrible fictional children I have loved:

Faith imagined herself sinking deeper into the mud, entombed there forever, the eons slowly turning her to stone – a fossil waiting to be discovered by another little girl from the future, a girl with an alien face, but inquisitive, multi-faceted eyes, a fly-person looking back across the ages, to a distant time when mammals ruled the earth.

Ah, scientific creepiness and a death-wish. CLASSIC FAITH. <3 ...uh, but really most of the fic is a super hopeful happy ending for them and I'm so delighted that someone wrote it for me!

So this was wonderful and unlikely enough, BUT ALSO I got:

win me, win me, an ye will, an amazing?? PITCH-PERFECT???? crossover!!!! between Miss Marjoribanks, the greatest obscure Victorian social engineering competence porn novel possibly ever written, and Zen Cho's Sorcerer to the Crown, one of my OTHER favorite books to come out this year, in which Lucilla Marjoribanks is called upon to defeat a lady of the fairies in single! combat! TO THE SOCIAL DEATH! (and possibly also the death death) (but a lady prefers not to discuss such things explicitly)

"I am afraid that we find ourselves in a very awkward position," Lucilla told the Lady sadly. She had a horror of social awkwardness above all things. "Asking you to withdraw your influence from Marchbank was my intention also."

Every single one of you should read this; no knowledge of either canon is really necesary for enjoyment beyond a general awareness of the tropes of Victorian literature and/or fairy stories, and I spent basically every other sentence screaming in awe, hilarity, or both. Finally, Lucilla Marjoribanks has a sphere worthy of her prodigious talents! (I do have a suspicion about who might have written this; we'll see if I am right. Either way, whoever it is, they are clearly as much of a genius as Lucilla Marjoribanks herself.)

BUT ALSO ALSO -- as if this were not already a bounty far beyond what I could have dreamed! -- I got:

the year we built the windows, a NOVELLA-LENGTH 7 SEEDS LESBIAN ARCHITECT/ENGINEER CHARACTER STUDY AND ROMANCE?!?! This is at least the fifth time I've asked for 7 Seeds fic in an exchange without ever receiving it, and this has now become a lesson to me in the value of persistence; now and only now do I understand that the universe has just been saving up until now, when it has presented me with EVERYTHING I COULD HAVE POSSIBLY WANTED. The characterization and relationships are beautiful -- not just Ran/Nijiko, but Ran and Hana, Ran and Botan, Ran and Team Autumn, Nijiko and Team Summer A, Ran and the echoes of the past civilization, all of them get their due -- and it has everything I love in canon, all the themes of failure, and second chances, and slow, indefinable growth.


Nijiko frowned through her ridiculous prison-bar bangs. "How did you know it randomizes water pressure?"

"I heard Ayu-san say so," Ran lied, because it was less soul-crushing than conceding she might have asked Akane to note the volume of water in a bath bucket, before-and-after, and dragged out some undergrad calculus to ascertain whether the Summer A girls had actually done womankind the service of getting massaging showerhead action out of a glorified flute.

Picking a part to quote was incredibly difficult because did I mention there's fourteen thousand brilliant words of it?? God. THIS YULETIDE. I almost don't want to go read the rest of the archive! I need more time to just wallow in the luxury of my gifts like a dragon with a fic hoard.
skygiants: Mosca Mye, from the cover of Fly Trap (the fly in the butter)
"Frances Hardinge has a new book out!"
"How long will it be before [personal profile] skygiants posts incoherently about how much she loved it?"
"Eh. Maybe like a week? A week, tops."

In fact it was almost two weeks because I was, as you know, trapped in an endless wasteland of Sheri Tepper, but Hardinge's The Lie Tree redeems all. It's not my favorite of Hardinge's books, probably, but it's a GOOD book.

(Also there are totally lesbians in it? There are totally lesbians in it.)

The Lie Tree is Victorian historical, like Cuckoo Song was Jazz Age historical, and like Cuckoo Song it is REALLY INTERESTED in the ways that women are silenced, and the sometimes terrible ways they contort themselves to get around it. I mean, "it sucks to be a teenage girl in the Victorian era" is not a particularly novel thesis, but the more the book goes on the more Hardinge gives it knife-edges. Faith, the heroine of The Lie Tree, is quietly dull on the outside, and on the inside she's quietly dishonest and quietly manipulative and often quietly cruel, and quietly brilliant, and furious. She's got more in common with the villain of the book than she does anybody else. Her pet metaphor is a small, overlooked, vaguely torpid snake. I love her, OF COURSE.

(...and everyone else! I was just talking about this book on Twitter and I'll say there what I said here: one of my favorite things about Frances Hardinge is how she likes to sow a crop of unsympathetic women for the protagonist to hate, and then gradually forces you to admire pretty much every single one of them. I mean, she always does this. But perhaps more in The Lie Tree than ever before.)

Also, it's such an amazingly Victorian book! Like, Hardinge clearly thinks the actual Victorian era is as weird a backdrop as any of her completely made-up ones, and she's not wrong. Faith's father is a famous Gentleman Scientist, and the whole thing is wound through with earnestly terrible Victorian science, and creepy Victorian death photography (everyone loves creepy Victorian death photography!), and the stifling grip of knickknacks and rules and propriety, and the world-shattering effect of the idea of evolution on everything everyone in Victorian England has ever believed.

-- okay, the actual plot? The plot: there's a death; Faith wants revenge; her only weapon is a tree that will (maybe) grant the truth in exchange for lies. So she gives it lies, and she makes them spread. HIJINKS ENSUE, by which I mean, our heroine is directly responsible for quite a number of terrible and life-threatening things befalling other people. Sorry, Faith. You meant it for the best. (Well, sort of.)
skygiants: Sheska from Fullmetal Alchemist with her head on a pile of books (ded from book)
For the 17th, for the December meme (so behind!) [personal profile] ceitfianna asked me about the top five books on my to-read list and why. usual, I don't know if this is top five really if one is grading empirically, but it's the top five I am thinking of at the moment and/or can see on my shelf!

1. The Lie Tree, Frances Hardinge

I don't even have any idea what this is about yet, I just know that NEW FRANCES HARDINGE COMES OUT IN MAY and I am PSYCHED. I loved her first book with a fiery passion and basically everything she's written since then has been consistently better (oh my god Cuckoo Song was SO GOOD!) and ... I know in theory someday this will not be true? But in practice I am going to JUMP ON THIS BOOK AND DEVOUR IT as soon as I can get it into my hands.

2. Species Imperative, Julie Czerneda

I read the first book in this trilogy a few months ago and I loved it! Excellent space opera with a solid female friendship at the heart of the series, a science protagonist who feels like she does actual science (she's a MARINE BIOLOGIST, not a XENOBIOLOGIST, why does everyone keep asking her about aliens?!), and interesting weird alien politics. So then I bought the omnibus so I could read the whole thing in a go ... but I haven't yet because the omnibus is too heavy and I keep balking at carrying it around. :( I outsmarted myself! I have a cunning plan though, I'm going to bring it with me on my vacation home and read it on the bus, and then just leave it in my suitcase the rest of the time. Species Imperative trilogy, I will conquer you!

3. Making it Big: The Diary of a Broadway Musical, Barbara Isenberg

This book has been surprisingly elusive; I've wanted to read it since I first heard about it, and I finally tracked it down at one of my local libraries. To the best of my knowledge it is an account of the DISASTER that was the making of the Broadway musical Big, which, a.) I love disastrous making-of accounts of theatrical and film performances and b.) I was in a disastrous production of Big, when I was in middle school (ok, it was not actually that disastrous except inasmuch as all productions of Big are inherently disastrous, BUT STILL) and I am really looking forward to the schadenfreude. I can only hope it's as magical as Song of Spiderman.

4. Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho

Zen Cho has just sold her first full-length novel -- it comes out sometime next September, I think -- and I AM EMBARRASSINGLY EXCITED. Zen calls the genre "postcolonial fluff for book nerds," which is exactly my favorite sort of fluff, and it's set in the magic 1800s and stars London's first black Sorcerer Royal. Zen says, "It has secret dragons and schoolgirl hijinks and confrontations at balls and bossy witch aunties. It’s even got pontianak, because why not." WHY NOT INDEED. Anyway I assume now you all have heard this you are all as excited as I am!

1. Fish Tails, Sheri S. Tepper

I am not ... 'top' is not exactly the right word here. I did not willingly put this book on my to-read list. Fate, helped along by the cruel hands of [personal profile] varadia, has thrust it upon me. For the record, this is Sheri Tepper's latest. It is a combined sequel to the one where the heroine lays eggs that turns into cephalopod merbabies and the ones with the D&D superpowers and the secret underground mountain full of evil disabled people. It is SEVEN HUNDRED PAGES LONG and Lynne gave it to me for my holiday present, because she wants to laugh at me and my suffering and she KNOWS that now it's in my hands I won't be able to resist.
skygiants: Mosca Mye, from the cover of Fly Trap (the fly in the butter)
I'm currently in that state of post-new-Frances-Hardinge depression when I have to face the glum fact that it will likely be YEARS before I see another new Frances Hardinge novel.

Cuckoo Song, though! So good! Has anyone else read it yet? I want to flail my hands around and say all the things I loved about it, but most of them are somewhat spoilery!

The book begins when eleven-year-old Triss -- an isolated, over-protected girl who's always ill -- comes back home after an accident. Her memories are foggy, her 'difficult' little sister seems to hate her more than ever, and there's some kind of awful hole in her stomach; she eats and eats and eats until her parents are terrified, but nothing fills her up ...

That's the beginning, and for the first quarter of the story it's pure psychological horror, classic female-focused psychological horror -- complete with creepy dolls and callbacks to The Yellow Wallpaper and the looming threat of being committed to an asylum -- as Triss navigates the double bind of what's wrong with her now and what was wrong with her and her family before.

Then the first set of mysteries gets solved, and it becomes clear that you're looking at a thoroughly familiar story from a completely different angle, and it's GREAT.

And at the same time it's looking at the aftermath of WWI, and grief and recovery, and shifting cultural gender roles, and what it means to be a monster, and what it means to be family, and the three main characters are Triss and her awful, difficult, angry little sister and AN EMOTIONALLY CONSTIPATED MOTORCYCLE-RIDING FLAPPER WHO DANCES ALL NIGHT IN JAZZ CLUBS, and and and!

And now I have that problem where I have to find something else to read and not spend all my time resenting it for not being a Frances Hardinge book.
skygiants: Mosca Mye, from the cover of Fly Trap (the fly in the butter)
It's always really hard to review Frances Hardinge books because there are always twenty things going on in them at once and all of them are REALLY GOOD. But here I am, attempting to give A Face Like Glass a go anyway.

This particular exercise of Frances Hardinge's bizarrely delightful brain takes place in an underground cavern of a city that runs on craftsmanship - impossibly gourmet wines and cheese and perfumes that can make you lose memories or experience visions or alter your emotions.

Our heroine is an apprentice cheesemaker named Neverfell, a friendly, trusting little girl with severe ADD, no memories of her life before the age of five, and a face that shows everything she's thinking (which is generally a lot of things in a very short span, because did I mention the severe ADD?)

This is unfortunate for Neverfell, because in Caverna, babies don't learn how to make facial expressions from their parents - so everyone's facial expressions are carefully crafted by artisans and equally carefully chosen to suit any given occasion. Except the drudges, of course; they only learn about three expressions, mostly indicating polite subservience, because why would they need any more? Either way, nobody's face just shows what they're actually thinking! THAT WOULD BE RIDICULOUS. (And, of course, unsafe.)

Neverfell just wants to make friends and see something of the city! Finding out some secrets of her own past would be nice, too. But to the rest of the courtiers of Caverna, she's either an intriguing novelty or a terrifying freak of nature or -- most dangerous of all -- an invaluable tool in their long-range plans.

What the people manipulating her have in mind is a transfer of power. Add in a ruler who has literally split his brain in two, a master thief with a plan so complex that he's even keeping secrets from himself, a court-trained girl who might turn out to be Neverfell's best friend, an underclass who are ready to finally learn how to make the expression that signifies "anger," and Neverfell's discovery of her own agency and abilities, and what they might get is something like a revolution.

Or, for a shorter summary: it's Frances Hardinge, so you already know it's really good, and it's basically fantasy of manners on LSD, and it's funny and creepy and biting and heartbreaking, and there is literally a scene in which Neverfell is repeatedly forced to choose between cake and death. And it works. SO THERE YOU GO.
skygiants: Mosca Mye, from the cover of Fly Trap (the fly in the butter)

. . . uh, and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! Have fun with your holiday, I'm going to be over here with my giant pile of glorious Yuletide to wade through. *____*

I got two stories this year and they are both PERFECTION.

The Marriage Masquerade, The Talisman Ring

Ludovic waved a hand. “I want nothing—the reek from that devilish carpet is sobering enough.”

Sir Tristram exerted a super-human effort, and refrained from pointing out that this ruinously expensive carpet had been an excellent example of its kind before he and his Bedlamite wife had entered the room uninvited.

Ludovic and Eugenie are having some marital problems, so obviously it's up to Tristram and Sarah to sort them out, as usual. This fic is hilarious and perfectly in-character all around, but the greatest thing about it is that it is Talisman Ring fic WITH CROSSDRESSING, like, man, guys, somebody clearly knows exactly what I want in my fiction. WELL DONE, MYSTERY AUTHOR.

Civilized Indecency, Fly By Night

“We must do something about these disruptive tendencies of yours, Mosca. Oh, yes, they’re endearing on a certain level, but that hardly balances the inconvenience, not to mention mortal peril, your revolutionary little heart brings upon us with stunning regularity. Can we, just this once, drop it?”

Mosca encounters a corrupt legal system, proceeds to drag Clent into attempting to turn it on its head, as is her wont, and finds out things are immensely more complicated and troubling than she thought - so basically this fic like someone wrote me a new Mosca Mye novel in two thousand words AND IS PERFECTION, everyone go read it immediately! Oh Mosca, my very favorite angry little girl.

There might be actual recs later as I dive into the rest of the archive, but for right now I just have to do a special shout-out to the greatest mystery (for me) of Yuletide so far: Step by step on the flowers placed before you, a Capital Scandal/Sungkyunkwan Scandal CROSSOVER FIC about YONG HA AND CHA SONG JOO HANGING OUT oh my god beautiful brilliance (beautiful heartbreaking brilliance)

This was a gift for [personal profile] shati, who for the record I sat down and forced to watch both Capital Scandal and Sungkyunkwan Scandal this summer. So when she saw the tags we had this conversation:

BECCA: No! It wasn't me! Was it you?
SHATI: It's a gift for me, so I'm pretty sure no! Are you sure it wasn't you?
BECCA: Not unless I wrote it in my sleep!
SHATI: . . .
BECCA: . . . Debi . . .?

But it doesn't read particularly like [personal profile] innerbrat, or [personal profile] viviolo or [personal profile] dharmavati either, who would be my first range of usual suspects. If I'm wrong: CONGRATS GUYS, you totally fooled me, and also, YOU'RE AMAZING. If it's someone else I know: DITTO. If it's a stranger: HI, YOU'RE A GENIUS, LET'S BE FRIENDS.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
Okay, so I just read The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge (published in the UK as Gullstruck Island), and - okay, this woman has published four books, and every single one I have loved to pieces, and this one isn't my favorite exactly, but I think it is legitimately her best.

It's hard to describe the actual plot of this book, because the worldbuilding is so fantastically dense and complex and original that it would take up like a chapter of real text to give a good idea of what's going on, but I'm going to give it a shot:

A long time ago, the Cavalcaste came to Gullstruck Island. The various ethnic groups living there reacted in various different ways -- among them the Lace, known for their jewelled teeth and creepy constant smiling. The Lace said, "hey, welcome, do anything you like but please don't settle right in between the volcanoes!" The Cavalcaste, of course, built a city right in between the volcanoes. Pretty soon, people from that city began disappearing; it turned out that the smiling Lace had been kidnapping and sacrificing them in an attempt to ward off VOLCANIC DOOM.

Fast-forward two hundred years. The island is ruled by a combination of Cavalcaste governors and the Council of the Lost -- people born with the ability to basically astrally project their senses away from their bodies. (On a volcano-strewn island inhospitable to travellers, it is really useful to have people around who can go, say, check on approaching weather, or read a newspaper in the next town over without having to physically leave their house.) As for the Lace -- they're a marginalized, impoverished minority group, and their religion has been officially banned, but they're still jewelling their teeth and smiling creepily at everyone they meet. Nobody trusts the Lace.

Of course our heroine, Hathin, is Lace. And not only that, even among the Lace, she's the invisible girl -- the shyly smiling, quiet helper of her beautiful older sister Arilou, the only Lost born among the Lace . . .

. . . maybe. Because the thing about kids who are sometimes not all there is that child development looks a little bit different than it does with kids who are grounded in their own bodies, and sometimes it's hard to tell the difference between a kid who's a Lost and a kid who's just . . . not all there. Arilou rarely shows signs of responding to the people around her and has never spoken a coherent word -- but the Lace village desperately needs the status and privilege conferred by having the local Lost, and over the years the hope that she is a Lost has gradually turned into a village-wide conspiracy to cover up the what if she isn't. When a senior examiner shows up to test Arilou's Lost abilities, the responsibility of maintaining that conspiracy falls on Hathin's shoulders.

That covers maybe the first fifty pages of plot.

What happens next involves mass murder, and a love triangle between three volcanoes, and cities of the dead, and obsessive assassins, and a secret group of desperate sworn revengers living in the forest, and a crowd-witch who plays the mob like a harp, and a perky teenaged boy madly in love with a giant, broody, battle-scarred middle-aged woman with loads of backstory angst (this is the only thing that even approaches a romance in the book -- uh, unless you count the volcanic love triangle) and epic standoffs with pet birds and wooden fish, and a perfect storm of prejudice and miscommunication, and the astoundingly evil things people are willing to do for a concept of the greater good.

This is a book about colonialism and culture clash and the undeath of history. It's about the family you have, and the love and resentment you feel towards someone who needs you, and whose existence overshadows yours, and whose mind is so alien that you don't even know if you can reach it. It's about the family you don't have, and the ways broken people can and can't rely on each other -- there's a subplot that I love, about Hathin and a boy who has lost his family and calls her his little sister, because Hathin knows she isn't his little sister, that broken pieces don't fit together that easily. And the thing is, it would be a great book that treated any one of these things with the complexity that it deserves, but Frances Hardinge manages to do all of these things at once, and still have time for incredible worldbuilding, and even to be very funny on occasion, and I just closed the last page with a sense of awe.
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (Default)
Frances Hardinge's Fly-by-Night was one of my absolute favorite books that I read last year. Since I just reread it, it is also one of my absolute favorite books that I read this year, and so is the sequel, Fly Trap.

Overall, Fly Trap is probably not quite as good a book as Fly-by-Night. Fly Trap brings our heroine Mosca Mye to the locked city of Toll, which literally separates its citizens into those who were born under benevolent gods, and therefore have "day" names, and those who were born under gods classified as more suspicious and have "night" names. Toll-by-Day is pretty but hollow; Toll-by-Night is pure Dickensian Underworld. As a look at privilege, this is effective (and Frances Hardinge is definitely a good enough writer to sell it) but not super subtle.

Also there is no sequence quite as glorious as The One Where Saracen the Homicidal Goose Beats Up Everyone on a Floating Coffeehouse, although The Unfortunate Collision of Heists Involving Imposter Skeletal Horses does come close, and Mosca giving a would-be-revolutionary lessons in radicalism because she's offended by his misquoting is nothing short of glorious. ("Bring a notebook. We'll 'ave you lopping kings' 'eads off before you can say fraternity.")

Anyway, I say all this, but actually I love the book totally uncritically, because a.) I love Hardinge's writing beyond words and b.) I am SO INVESTED in the main dynamic of the book I don't even have words. Mosca and her companion (the one who is not a homicidal goose) have a dynamic that I think is really rare between a child-protagonist and an adult character, and not in any way pseudo-parental. It's an uneasy alliance growing inch by painful inch by inch into a partnership between two clever, suspicious, self-interested and untrustworthy individuals, in which every bit of confidence and loyalty has to be slowly and painfully earned - and therefore means ten times more than it would if it were any easier. I love it to a ridiculous extent and to sum up why I will give you a quote that does in fact name Mosca's companion and therefore somewhat spoils the end of Fly-by-Night. )

So, question for you guys: what are your favorite fictional partnership dynamics between kids and adults? [personal profile] batyatoon and I were trying to brainstorm some the other day and we couldn't think of many (though it did lead to us watching the first few episodes of TailSpin. There's one!)
skygiants: Koizumi Kyoko from Twentieth Century Boys making her signature SHOCKED AND HORRIFIED face (wtf is this)
[ profile] shati and I sometimes play a game in bookstores when we look at the spines of YA books and attempt to guess genre/plot from the font of the title. We have a reasonable percentage of accuracy. However, we might have been thrown by the cover of Frances Hardinge's Well Witched.

If you look at this cover, you will probably think to yourself: oh, I know what this is! A cheery middle-grade novel about plucky kids who have comical, slightly spooky witching adventures!

You will probably not think to yourself: oh, I know what this is! This is a book in which an ill-advised wish leads to a woman getting trapped in her house going slowly insane, an elderly grandmother type attempts to murder a child by withholding her inhaler during an asthma attack, and a terrified eleven-year-old grows TINY CREEPY EYES ON HIS KNUCKLES.

Unless you do, in which case you are way better at guessing than I.

Uh, terror aside, I would actually really highly recommend this book! At the start, preteens Ryan, Chelle and Jack steal some coins from an old wishing well; the INCREDIBLY CREEPY being at the bottom of the well then compels them to fulfil the wish that goes with each coin. To help with this, Jack (a daredevil who wears Cool Glasses even when he doesn't need to) gets the power of manipulating electricity, Chelle (who talks so much that nobody ever listens to her) starts babbling out the thoughts of other people, and Ryan, the viewpoint character, gets the aforementioned CREEPY EYES ON HIS KNUCKLES. At first they are creeped out, but basically figure, hey, fulfilling wishes might be fun! Except, while fulfilling the bored soda fountain guy's wish for a Harley Davidson might be mostly made of hijinks, what about the people who wish for revenge, or for something that's bothering them to just disappear, or just to disappear themselves?

The book goes pretty dark pretty quickly - but at the same time, the real emphasis of the story is that even weak or damaged or hateful people deserve a chance to change and a change for happiness. Hardinge's books are full of flawed and complicated people. One of my favorites is Ryan's mother, who might not be exactly an awesome person - she's one of those celebrity stalkers who writes unauthorized biographies - but her flaws are also some of the same things that make her an amazing mom. I also really really love Chelle and Ryan's development; both of them are shy awkward kids with low self-esteem (that manifests itself in different ways) who rely on Jack to give them purpose and direction, and have to learn to stand on their own feet, which you know is one of my favorite things.

So basically: I totally encourage everyone to read it, but know what you are getting into; this is not fluff. Speaking of, if you guys have any particularly egregious stories about misleading book covers: share!
skygiants: Princess Tutu, facing darkness with a green light in the distance (azula intent)
A few months ago [ profile] villanny emailed me to flail about Francis Hardinge's Fly By Night. And once again Nny earns her place in the annals of the wise, because, having now finally read Fly By Night, I can safely say THIS BOOK IS AMAZING. In my head it goes into the same category of "deceptively complex books about revolution" as the Dalemark Quartet and the Westmark books, which right there should tell you how much I liked it.

Fly By Night is the following awesome things:
- a book about a revolution that is neither hopelessly idealistic nor hopelessly depressing
- a book set in a fantasy-country with a number of serious issues that does not actually set out to solve all those issues by the end of the story
- a book about the all-important power of words
- a book starring a homicidal goose

For the most part the story follows Mosca Mye, a twelve-year-old plucky orphan who is absolutely not an adorable moppet - she's more like what would happen if you cross-bred Lyra in The Golden Compass with Mitt in Drowned Ammett. (Yes, you should be afraid.) Mosca is cocky, self-absorbed and bitter, with few morals, a high opinion of her own cleverness and a very low level of trust in other human beings. She also has a passionate hunger for words, so when Eponymous Clent, a con artist who uses more and fancier words than she's ever heard in her life, gets thrown into the stocks in her town, she formulates a plan: she'll break him out if he promises to take her with him when he leaves. Burning down her aunt and uncle's barn and stealing Saracen the extremely violent goose was not initially part of the plan, but these things do happen, you know?

Eventually Mosca and Clent's Bickering and Double-Crossing Road Trip takes them to a town run by a mad duke . . . which is when things start to get complicated, as Mosca finds herself navigating among several scheming guilds and factions, none of which could really be called moral or trustworthy. (One of the things I love most is that the conflicts involve politics and religion and trade all wound up together, because that's how things actually work.) The pace of double- and triple-crosses speeds up, the city starts to careen towards chaos, Mosca starts to grow something vaguely resembling a conscience, and Saracen the Goose Beats Up Everyone On a Floating Coffeehouse. (It is glorious and must be seen to be believed.)

Also, the characters are amazing and fully realized, the writing is clever and funny and gorgeous, and this is getting long so basically I will just say that Frances Hardinge has just shot up to a prized spot on my list of Authors Whose Works I Must Acquire In Their Entirety And Read ASAP.

- oh, one more thing I want to say actually, though: this book is awesome for the ladies! From Lady Tamarind, the Duke's glamorous, hardcore and morally ambiguous sister, to The Cakes, the silly and weepy girl next door who becomes one of Mosca's most important allies, there is a wide range of important female characters and it makes me happy. Go Bechdel Test!


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