First off, while nothing I say here is going to spoil Mosca and Eponymous’ first outing, Fly by Night (my thoughts here), for anyone, I do feel that you should read that book before you tackle Twilight Robbery. The events in the first book have created the situation in the second, and, more importantly, Mosca and Eponymous’ relationship is more touching here if you see first how it began.
“They shared a love of words, a taste for adventure and a dubious relationship with the truth …”
This relationship is so very well written. It’s not something that Hardinge makes a big deal of, but Mosca and Eponymous have come to know and trust one another. Now, don’t get me wrong here, Eponymous Clent is still a silver-tongued, sticky-fingered, mastermind of misanthropic mischief and Mosca Mye is still his equal (and as wonderfully absorbent when it comes to bad language of all kinds – be it slang, criminal cant or expletives – as she ever was). And they continue to squabble like cats in a bag on occasion, but they also know each other’s strengths and weaknesses better, and under Mr Clent’s shabby waistcoat and Miss Mye’s faded frock there is a genuine concern and affection for each other. And this can be no better illustrated than by the fact that Eponymous, while ever hopeful of losing him, no longer actively tries to ditch Saracen, Mosca’s beloved and violent goose. (Ah, Saracen! Hardinge never overuses him, but some of the funniest moments in this book have a goose in them).
After their fairly neat escape from the town of Grabely, courtesy of Mosca’s flourishing skillset, the pair (plus goose) make their way to Toll, a town that sits upon a river and, as is suggested by its name, requires a fee upon both entrance and exit. Once inside Clent and Mosca have three days to find the money to leave and continue on their way, before Mosca gets relegated to the dark side of town. Because Toll is not one place, but two. Toll-by-Day is an apparently clean and pleasant place, but only one half of the story. Toll-by-Night emerges as the sun sets and is the darker heart of the town in many ways. The town changes its physical appearance at night, with the frontages of buildings being swung open or closed to reveal other establishments and routes of passage, and the townsfolk of the day ‘cease to exist’ during the night, as those of the night do during daylight hours. And the way in which it is decided who lives where? Names.
As we learned in Fly by Night the world of Mosca and Clent worships numerous gods, known collectively as the Beloved. Each god has a purpose, and an appointed time of either the day or night. Each person is named after the Beloved dominant at their time of birth, and nobody lies about their name. And in Toll each Beloved has been arbitrarily marked up as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as have the names associated with them. When visitors arrive they are issued with either a light or a dark badge to show whether they have a good or a bad name, so that people can treat them accordingly. By this system Eponymous is given a light badge, and Mosca a dark one.
The book turns out to be a fascinating exploration of ideas like nominative determinism, appearances being deceptive and fear as a method of control. Not everyone living in Toll-by-Day is actually a virtuous person, nor everyone in Toll-by-Night a criminal, but this is how they are treated. Mosca meets just as many characters who prove themselves well-named as those that aren’t, and finds that people can only ever be judged by their behaviour. She is also a budding atheist and radical, questioning both the superstitions surrounding the Beloved, and by what right some people hold power over others. She has become, in this book, one of my all-time favourite characters. Regularly described as ferret-faced and black-eyed, she is brave and resourceful and endlessly curious. Despite her association with the delightfully untrustworthy Clent, she also proves herself loyal to those she has befriended. I really do hope this is not the last Hardinge will write of the marvellous Mosca Mye.
“Having tasted Toll-by-Night’s moonlit stew of murder, menace, treachery and pursuit, she had fallen wildly in love with the six shabby bolts that held the door shut and danger out.”
It’s killing me not to talk about all the things that happen in this book, but I wouldn’t for the world ruin what’s in store for you if you choose to read it. The plot is fabulously knotty and flawlessly executed. There are characters with names like Paragon Collymoddle and Blethemy and Blight Crace, who go about swearing with words like “crabmaggots”, “oh, draggles” and “dungbuckets!” and calling each other things like a “smirking spit-gobbet” and a “pompous old pustule”. There are some truly terrifying moments, like the Pawnbrokers’ Auction and Havoc’s fate in Toll-by-Night. You will meet dastardly villains and daring radicals, brave smugglers and unlikely heroes. You will witness exhilarating escapes, thrilling thefts, multiple masquerades and kickass kidnappings. You will discover just what a person will do for some chocolate!
I recommended Fly by Night to a young reader in the library last week because, after establishing that she wanted SFF, I asked her what she was looking for in a book and she said “something weird”. It was like she had been sent to me, a gift from the universe! Because while I was reading Twilight Robbery I was thinking that the kids who love Hardinge with all her ideas and language-play are going to grow up to love Gaiman and Fforde, Peake and Miéville, maybe Barker, maybe VanderMeer, and that makes me grin from ear to ear to ear.
Anyhow, I shall leave you with a few of my favourite Beloved from this book:
Goodlady Blatchett – Lifter of the Stone from the Toad
Goodman Phangavotte – He Who Smooths the Tongue of the Storyteller and Frames the Legendary Deed
Goodlady Halepricket – She Who Keeps the Heads of Sheep from Getting Caught in Bushes
Goodman Trywhy – Master of Schemes, Sleights and Stratagems
Goodlady Adwein – Wielder of the Pestle of Fate
(I read this for my “Read a sequel” Book Bingo category).