RogerBW's Blog

Twilight Robbery, Frances Hardinge 13 January 2017

2011 non-historical fiction, sequel to Fly By Night. Mosca Mye and Eponymous Clent are still in trouble, and attempting to flee through Toll, the town that controls the only bridge across the big river. But both entering and leaving have their price. US vt Fly Trap.

This is not, quite, more of the same thing that the excellent Fly By Night gave me, and that's a better thing than forced repetition would have been. Yes, it's still a romp with Mosca and Eponymous (and Saracen the one-goose war zone) just trying to go about their business while getting into deeper and deeper trouble, until they're so far in that their actions will change the fates of city-states. But where Fly By Night was also about religion, and tribalism, Twilight Robbery is about power, and racism (reminding me of a certain famously awful Star Trek episode, only this gets it right), and unstated assumptions.

And the writing, of course, continues to be utterly gorgeous. I've enjoyed all of Harding's books that I've read, but she seems to indulge herself more in this world, as when Mosca is thrown into a cellar:

Unbidden, there came into Mosca's mind a long-forgotten image of her aunt peeling potatoes, the long spiral curling down and down from the tuber and then dropping into the waiting bucket of throwings and leavings. The thought that she had been casually cast down like a piece of rubbish filled Mosca with a wild surge of un-potato-like rage.

In fact this carries one over the stumbles of the first few chapters, which start at a fairly low spot and promptly get lower, maintaining a relaxed pace as everything falls apart. Once the story reaches Toll, things speed up, with complication piled on complication, quick reverses, and a find-the-villain puzzle good enough to support a detective story on its own even without all the other stuff that's happening.

And yet this book never creaks under the weight of all the stuff that's happening; there's never a feeling of too much going on or too many people. They're all delineated well enough that there's no difficulty in keeping track of who's who and what they're up to.

And there's the Luck of the City to consider, and the Romantic Facilitator ("it have been put to him that sometimes the course of true love does not run smooth but needs help, and sometimes a few coins changing hands and a bit of sword-work like"), and the hastily-improvised pantomime Clatterhorse.

Sadly, despite all his skill, it looked very little like a skeletal horse, and more like a deer that had got its head stuck in a xylophone. The bulging glass bottle-top eyes might have been a mistake as well, with hindsight.

It's not the friendly assault on the mind that Fly By Night was, but it's a worthy sequel and one that I greatly enjoyed. And of course there's never enough of Saracen.

They might have spent another few minutes in pensive silence, if down by the road Saracen had not decided to begin the war on his own.

To be fair, he had been provoked. Two soldiers who had already pitched camp had broken open a loaf without any thought for the hunger of waterfowl in the vicinity. The soldiers in question were now hiding on the far side of one of the provisions wagons, and one had sneezed gunpowder over his arm and shoulder while trying to load his pistol in too much haste.

And sometimes one needs to remember that radicalism is all about walkin' on the grass.

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