Fly by Night

Clever but confusing story needs editing.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The main character lies, accidentally sets fire to a mill, and is tempted to falsely accuse someone.


Fighting, shooting, stabbing, murder, torture all mentioned, though no graphic descriptions.


Mention of bigamists and illegitimate children.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Snuff, pipe smoking, children and adults drink beer and gin.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that there's some violence, though not terribly graphic. For much of the book, the main character's ethics are questionable at best, though she does shape up toward the end.

Kids say

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What's the story?

In an alternative version of 18th-century England, Mendelion is ruled in name by a mad Duke, in reality by a group of competing Guilds, and in aspiration by a variety of royal pretenders. Since the Realm was shattered, the king deposed, and the parliamentarians and monarchists locked in struggle, with the Guilds in between, there has never been real peace, and open warfare is just a wrong move away.


Into this tinderbox comes Mosca Mye, an orphan who has taken up with a smooth-talking con man, both because she loves words, and because she accidentally set her mean uncle's mill on fire. Together they get involved in the power intrigues of the city. But Mosca, though very bright and literate (a rarity in this world), understands a lot less than she thinks she does.

Is it any good?


Frances Hardringe's fertile imagination fills this book with an abundance of complex, deeply thought-out, and at times just plain weird events and characters. Word-loving children will find much here to tickle their fancies.

But Hardringe falls prey to that familiar bugaboo of novice writers -- she tries to pack all her ideas into her first book, and apparently she didn't have an editor who told her to scale it back. The result is a mishmash that will lose many, if not most, young readers early on to boredom, confusion, or incomprehension. But there's tremendous talent here, shown in many real gems of originality and felicitous language. Let's hope that Hardringe gets an editor who will rein her in more sharply next time.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the complex plot. What are all the different guilds, and why are they fighting? Were the Birdcatchers good or bad? What about Eponymous Clent? Mr. Kohlrabi? What does Mosca guess wrong and what does she get right?

Book details

Author:Frances Hardinge
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:HarperCollins Children's Books
Publication date:September 1, 2006
Number of pages:487
Read aloud:11
Read alone:11

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Teen, 13 years old Written bytori9lm April 9, 2008
age 0+

Umm........ lost

I understood the book fully but when i gave a signed copy to one of my friends she was totally lost. She said it was confusing, hard to follow, and to fast paced.
Teen, 14 years old Written bymferguson03 April 9, 2008
age 0+


Usually, when I read books, I remember at least some of the plot, and if it's good, all of it. I couldn't even think of who the main character was till I read CSM's review. And I remember being so confused, always thinking "Wait...who's he?" or "What just happened?" Definitely not worth reading.
Teen, 17 years old Written bydarkess winter April 5, 2011
age 12+

FlyByNight, amazing

i loved this book. it is unlike anything else i have read. it creates a whole new world for the reader. there is excitement, adventure, and mystery.
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