Escaping through chimneys, masquerading as a skeletal horse and saving a spoiled princess are just the tip of the tumultuous iceberg on which irreverent Mosca Mye, her violently hungry goose, Saracen, and her antiheroic cohort, Eponymous Clent, find themselves in Fly Trap. With this alternative world fantasy, Kirkus noted that author Frances Hardinge "creates a strange original society that reflects our own in provocative ways." We found her previous novel, The Lost Conspiracy, equally beguiling in the world-building department. Here she sheds some revolutionary light on white lies, name games and prehistoric pets.
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Mosca Mye often turns to little—and sometimes larger than little—white lies. What is your reply to critics who don’t approve of a lying protagonist?
All Mosca’s life the odds have been stacked against her, and so she has been thrown back on her own resources—her wiles, courage, wits and words. And yes, this does include the ability to tell barefaced lies.
The world through which she moves is a labyrinth of intrigue where lies are the common currency and where a word in the wrong place can very easily be fatal. If she let people know that she has consorted with radicals, read unlicensed books or entertained unusual ideas about the gods, she would have a life expectancy of about five minutes. There is nothing really wrong with having done any of these things, but she has to hide them because there is a great deal wrong with the society that would judge her for them.
I have also tried to show that lying is itself a precarious business and sometimes creates as many problems as it solves.
The city of Toll separates its daytime and nighttime citizens based on their names. What inspired this type of town?
Many real cities are two or more cities in one. Plump, prosperous districts exist surprisingly close to dangerous, desperate areas, and both are often good at pretending the other does not exist. In the case of Toll, I just put the districts in the same physical place so they were divided not by geography but by fear and a curfew.
In the Realm, names are seen as desperately important and an insight into a person's fundamental character. If you are born at a time sacred to a particular Beloved, you are given a name linked to that Beloved and everybody will expect your personality to fit with that of the god in question.
If you know who the bad apples are going to be from birth, why mix them with the good? Why not segregate them so that they can do less harm? As prejudices go, name-ism is obviously silly but no more silly than a lot of the reasons real people find to despise and fear each other.
What Beloved would you have been born under?
Although I would like to be a fly-child like Mosca [somebody born under Palpitattle, He Who Keeps the Flies from Jams and Butterchurns], I suspect that I would probably have been born under Phangavotte, like Eponymous Clent. Phangavotte is, after all, connected to the telling of tall tales, rather like Fly Trap itself.
What do you say to potential readers who might gasp at the sheer length of this book?
It's a thick book, but a lot does happen in it. There are four different kidnappings, not to mention double crosses, triple crosses, disguises, death-defying chimney adventures, murders, narrow escapes, a siege, a deadly inferno and the further exploits of Saracen the homicidal goose, all hopefully enough to stop things getting dull.
I could probably have made the book much shorter if I had just ended the book at page 408, but that would have meant abandoning Mosca and friends while they were fleeing for their lives through the moonlit streets in a makeshift horse costume, which hardly seemed fair.
Would you be likely to have a guard goose like Saracen on your side, or perhaps another species?
Well, obviously a tame stegosaurus would be nice, but feeding it and cleaning it would probably be time-consuming. It might draw a few stares as well.
There are several advantages to a guard goose. For one thing, they're just about small enough to carry. What's more, most people underestimate them. They might try to stop you walking into their village with a wolf or a panther by your side, but they probably won't be afraid of a goose in your arms...until it's too late.