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15 February 2009 @ 11:46 pm
Frances Hardinge, and why you should read her  
My normal state of affairs when it comes to new YA authors is mild despair and frustration at the lack of good editing out there. But every now and then, I find someone who makes me think that the golden days are not behind us and that the likes of Joan Aiken, Diana Wynne Jones and co do not represent the last high points of YA writing.

Frances Hardinge is one of those authors who restore my hope. I discovered her quite by accident, a very dear old friend asked if I had read a truly fabulous book about a girl with a goose. 'Not that I can recall,' I replied.

'Good, because I bought you one,' she told me.

She popped by and handed Fly By Night over with a look of smug assurance. 'You will like this,' she said. And she was quite right.

Mosca Mye, the heroine of the piece, is small, dark, unloved and orphaned, and not particularly remorseful about the fact that she has set fire to her uncle's mill as she sets off to rescue a stranger and escape the bleached dullness of Chough. Her father was a great man who had turned to his books after the death of her mother, by the time of his death, Mosca could read and write enough to know exactly what she was losing when the villagers burned his library.

The stranger is the silver-tongued and ethics-free Eponymous Clent, who has charmed his way into the society of Chough but has been revealed as a deceiver by a smooth-voiced nobleman. Mosca finds Clent in chains, and frees him on the condition he take her with him.

Unwillingly, Clent takes his small rescuer along on his escape, the both of them ably assisted by Mosca's only friend in Chough, Saracen, a thoroughly mundane and goosey goose.  They set off through a series of villages, all of which are  bound by their traditions and their superstitions, headed towards a capital that lacks a King or Queen, and which is squabbled over by dozens of pretenders. The power is held by the guilds, who control money, information and law. Only the coffee shops are free. Struggling to find independence in a world that has no place for her, Mosca simply wants to attend school and gain an education, but instead she finds herself caught up in the most dangerous intrigue of all, and unsure whether the man she rescued is a slight fool, or a dangerous murderer.

Hardinge's world building is astonishingly intricate, but wholly credible. The Kingless country with its bickering would-be royalty has a familiar feel to students of English history, as does the coffee-house-centred intelligensia. But it never reads as an Alexander Pope Tribute Novel, rather, this is a book of high adventure and thrilling action. Someone is killing people in a bid to gain power: is it one of the pretenders? one of the Guilds? or the feared and thought-dead Birdcatchers?

Most of all, Hardinge is a reader's writer. Her language is lush and rich, without ever veering into wankery.
The captain was a grim-smelling river-king named Partridge. There was something crooked in the make of his right wrist, as if it had been broken and never quite healed, and something crooked in the corner of his smile, as if that too had been broken and put back together slightly wrong.

I adored Fly By Night, and pressed it onto another bookish friend, who loved it just as much. I went looking for more books by the same author, and looked some more, and finally had Strong Words with the owners of several bookshops who had reams of Twilightery but no space for a genuinely good author. Happily, Amazon UK exists.

Verdigris Deep took some weeks to arrive, but was worth the wait. Ryan, Chelle and their older, more charismatic friend Josh miss the bus home one night and need money for a fare on the other route. A nearby wishing well comes to their rescue, but it is not long before the consequences are felt. The witch of the well demands that they fulfill the wishes for every coin they stole, so they set out on what at first feels like a merry jaunt. Soon, though, the darker wishes lurking beneath the surface ones make themselves felt.

Verdigris Deep (Well Witched in the US) confirmed my suspicions that Frances Hardinge is a Talent of Note. Set in contemporary England, it nevertheless has the same ability to quickly evoke mystery and menace that made Fly By Night so delicious. Those familiar characters from childhood, the creepy old family friend, the bullying older girl, the incomprehensible parents, all appear, but fresh and right, as they were for each of us in our own encounters.

Ryan, who narrates the story, flits between wanting freedom and wanting to be cared for. Between wanting to not be in trouble, and wanting to have it noticed that he is in trouble way over his head. He is such a well-written boy, all bravado and anxiety, and only when he starts to actually listen can he make sense of anything.

While the three characters form a trio that may seem a little familiar to HP readers, the dynamics are very different, though the friendships just as real and capable of being broken. And again, the language is crisp and captivating, drawing you in and keeping you close to the story as it shifts and twists. 

On a Responsbile Adult Note, if you are a parent of teenagers and want a book in which parents are depicted fairly and sympathetically, I can highly recommend this one. They are all flawed, but all people, and Ryan's set end up being little short of heroic.

For anyone who sheds a little tear at the rubbish written for teenagers today, grab one of Frances Hardinge's books. Her author bio is suitably sketchy and her fly-leaf photo sufficiently nondescript that I feel confident she is a slightly mad, thoroughly brilliant Person Like Us. And she's from Kent, which is next-door to where all the best people come from.

(No bushfire news today, it's still thoroughly gruesome but others are getting the word out. I needed a little normalcy here.)

AutumnHearti_autumnheart on February 15th, 2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Ooh - new author- I'll have to keep aneye out for that one. Thanks for the rec!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:10 am (UTC)
I was so thrilled that it wasn't a one-off. And I believe there's a third book due out any day, sadly not a sequel to FbN, but I'm led to believe one of them is in the offing!
themadpokerthemadpoker on February 15th, 2009 03:33 pm (UTC)
Have gone and placed it on hold! I've been on a lucky streak with good books lately, I'd like to continue it as long as possible. =)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:11 am (UTC)
Is that from your local library? I am so jealous, mine has 75,000 tomes on women's rights and bugger all in the way of actual stories. I am all for feminism, but would also like something fun to read!
Lisbet Karlsdottirlisbet on February 15th, 2009 04:07 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the rec! I'll have to look for this! I was browsing in the book store yesterday and didn't find anything that filled me with joy in the YA section. As I left, I was thinking wistfully of Joan Aiken's books and how I longed for something similar, so it's such a happy coincidence that you mentioned this!

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:12 am (UTC)
Joan Aiken made my childhood a slightly dark and Gothic joy, and I think that Frances Hardinge is keen to do the same for the iGen ;-) Glad to know there are others out there who loved the Aiken!
This Girlthisgirl_is on February 15th, 2009 05:21 pm (UTC)
*groan* My "To Read" pile is already enormous!

*makes note to buy these when The Pile is much smaller*
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:14 am (UTC)
Hee! Don't talk to me about it, I had to start filing my unread books in the general sections of the shelves rather than in a special pile by my bed, because the pile kept falling on to me whlie I slept.

Every now and then I see them on the shelves, and they glare at me, knowing full well that I have bought New Things in the interim ...
This Girlthisgirl_is on February 16th, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC)
I may possibly have had to buy a new bookcase recently. Maybe. 1 shelf of which is "To Read". Although I think Jane Eyre is still wandering among the general shelves, despite being on The List.

I decided to list The List in my RL journal, and report back on them. It keeps me entertained. :o)

My biggest problem is that I keep spending my reading time on fic, rather than actual books...
woman who reads too muchboxofdelights on February 15th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you! These sound wonderful. Verdigris Deep is available in the US, but only under the banal title of Well Witched.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:16 am (UTC)
Ooh, thanks for the tip, will edit! I think you will especially enjoy Fly By Night, which was transportive in its richness, but then, I also fell in love with Ryan's parents in Verdigris Deep ...
Bubba: Winstonabsynthedrinker on February 15th, 2009 08:08 pm (UTC)
You must absolutely visit her site and listen to her podcast.




Edited at 2009-02-15 08:08 pm (UTC)
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
She sounds deliciously am-dram and fun! I would love to steal her for a weekend somewhere Gothic, especially if storms could be laid on to order. Thanks for the link -- marvellous stuff!
Bubba: Winstonabsynthedrinker on February 16th, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)
I agree. She sounds like she knows "secret stuff". I am reading Verdigris Deep right now. Thanks so much for the rec.

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:13 pm (UTC)
You are very welcome. If we can conspire to make her famous, she will keep writing, and may be amenable to kidnapping at a future date!
Bubbaabsynthedrinker on February 16th, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Well her work is now mandatory reading for my staff. So that is 30 new fans right there. I fine start I would say!

blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)
*Sends hugs and kisses!*

I shall increase my efforts for The Cause. At the very least we should be able to ensure the upkeep of The Hat.
uminohikariuminohikari on February 16th, 2009 01:58 am (UTC)
Hey, what about YA writers like Naomi Novik and sarahtales?
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:18 am (UTC)
Not read any Naomi Novik, I will hunt her down! As to Sarah, I'm going to read her novel as soon as it's out, but am holding off until then. I loved Cassie Clare's Secret Diaries, but you cannot pay me to read the second City Of ... book after the slog that was the first one. SRB is a more rounded writer, so I think she will be fine, but I'm still waiting.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:19 am (UTC)
HA! Just realised who she is. The next YA book that I have queued up to read is by her! One slim Mary Shelley tome to knock off first.
uminohikariuminohikari on February 16th, 2009 02:24 am (UTC)
Yea, Novik isn't as strong in the interesting-character department >< But her world is interesting enough, and her action scenes are incredible
bare_memabonwitch on February 16th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
I grew up on quite the odd mixture of YA stories, shifting rapidly from "The Babysitter's Club" and "Sweet Valley High" (popular teen-girl stories here in the U.S.) to the world of fantasy adventure. I gravitated toward "worlds" rather than individual authors for years- a dozen or so authors wrote in the Forgotten Realms, where I spent much of my teens.

But of YA authors that did stick out for me, Diane Duane and Patricia Wrede were it. I'm always curious to hear about others' favorites, because books are lovely things!
blamebramptonblamebrampton on February 16th, 2009 02:07 pm (UTC)
I've not read either of them, will have to raid the library when the to-read list is a little more tackled!