Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge

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Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge

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Category: Teens
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye, her travelling companion Eponymous Clent and her manic goose Saracen need all their wiles and stratagems if they are to survive, never mind outwit, the townsfolk of Toll – an extraordinary place which has two completely separate populations.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 528 Date: March 2011
Publisher: Macmillan's Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1405055390

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Mosca and her companions will be familiar to readers of Fly By Night, but it is in no way necessary to have read the first volume of her adventures to thoroughly enjoy this book. She is a twelve-year-old orphan, who travels the roads with her homicidal goose, and a rather shifty poet called, charmingly, Eponymous Clent. We meet them just after a particularly energetic display of destruction by the said goose: Eponymous has been thrown into jail until he can pay for the damage, and Mosca is trying to raise some cash by reading aloud an old newspaper to illiterate townsfolk.

This skill will get her into terrible trouble, proving, incidentally, that all that stuff about education being good for you is at best a questionable premise. She eludes serious injury or death with her usual aplomb, and the three travellers set out for the lands across the river, where their scams and misdemeanours are less well known. But this is where things get really sticky. The only way across the river is through the bridge town of Toll, a bizarre place which contains two populations. All those born in daylight hours are allowed to enjoy the many delights of the place from sunrise to sunset. But come twilight, they are locked into their homes, and the cursed creatures who had the bad taste to be born at night, (and who must be, therefore, murders, thieves and radicals according to the Toll way of thinking), are granted free rein. Or are they? Who are the shadowy people who really rule the town? And why is it that people have to pay to enter Toll – and pay again to get out?

Frances Hardinge has an enviable flair for world-building. Every detail of her creation fits together with a charming and lunatic logic, providing the reader with a confection of social mores, religion, politics, law and power. But there is nothing dry or dull about it: Ms Hardinge's touch is light and humorous, and there is fun aplenty to be had alongside the spooky midnight trysts, ruthless villains and deadly peril. Saracen the goose, for example, is a joy to encounter, particularly in his fierce loyalty to his mistress and his determination to maim or eat (preferably both) anyone or anything he terms as 'non-Mosca'. Reversals and revelations abound. Young lovers, as blind and silly as lovers can ever be, are divided by the tragedy of their names, and there is a whole story, barely hinted at, behind the mystery of the two musicians who play five instruments. Fair maids simper elegantly, gentlemen posture and make hopelessly dramatic gestures, and all the while Mosca lies and wheedles and eavesdrops to ensure a happy outcome.

Mosca is a splendid creation, and the book is worth reading just to meet her. She is wily, resourceful and courageous, and she will take extraordinary risks. But unlike many heroes she has depth, and we see just how scared and hungry and weary she can get as she creeps about the darkened town, or flees for her life from terrifying creatures. She is perceptive, too, able to judge when to bully and when to cajole, but all the while her private thoughts give us a down-to-earth and often comic commentary on events. It is cruel to say so, but readers will hope she gets into a ton more trouble on her travels, just so we can have the pleasure of meeting her again.

This excellent book feels fast-paced, and there is a lot of action in its 500 pages. But in fact the reader soon becomes aware that Ms Hardinge is having a lot of fun playing with language, as descriptions, wry asides and colourful examples of thieves' cant cram the pages. This makes reading the book a rich and satisfying experience, and we look forward impatiently to further accounts of Mosca's adventures.

Many thanks to Macmillan Children's Books for sending this brilliant story to Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: There are many other excellent tales of young people who have to make their way unscathed through the crazy societies created by adults. One such is Ice Angel by Charlotte Haptie, and another is Neversuch House by Elliot Skell. And if you hanker for a rather more unusual hero, you'll love Sebastian Darke: A Buffalope's Tale by Philip Caveney.

Booklists.jpg Twilight Robbery by Frances Hardinge is in the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize 2011.

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