Twelve-year-old Mosca Mye and her travelling companion, a not-quite-trustworthy poet with the amazing name of Eponymous Clent, are in deep trouble. They have arrived in the little farming town of Grabely, and everything that could possibly go wrong has done so. Clent has been thrown into jail, Mosca's lethal pet goose has gone berserk, leaving a terrible trail of damage behind him, and Mosca herself hasn't a clue how to right things.
But she has one thing that the residents of the backwater Grabely don't have. She is the only person in town who can read. She earns a bit of money by reading notices to the illiterate townsfolk.
One night, she is kidnapped and forced to read a mysterious letter to a very unsavoury character called Skellow. The letter is about a plan to abduct the daughter of the mayor of the neighbouring town of Toll. Mosca manages to get away from Skellow and decides to travel to Toll and warn the mayor of the plot. The wily girl sees money to be made in this situation that has dropped by chance into her hands.
But Toll turns out to be an even weirder place. In fact it is two places, Toll-by-day and Toll-by-night. All the residents born in the day are allowed to live their lives between sunrise and sunset. When darkness descends, they are locked in their homes. Those born during the night can live only in Toll-by-night, a dangerous and lawless place.
Who are the shadowy figures that keep the two populations apart? Who are the true rulers of Toll, and why is the town divided?
The twin set-up of the kidnap plot and the true nature of Toll are rich plot devices that Frances Hardinge exploits to excellent effect in her fantasy novel. She has a wonderful talent for creating grimy and weird worlds. Every detail of Mosca's surroundings and life is spot on and totally believable. Hardinge throws religion, social behaviour, politics and law into the mix, and it all fits together like an intriguing jigsaw.
Twilight Robbery is a slab of a book, coming in at more than 500 pages, but the vivid imagination, off-balance sense of humour and entertaining style of writing make Mosca's story a rich read that you can really sink your teeth into. The characters are lively and the action is fast-paced and relentless.
Then there is the character of Mosca herself. She is no goody-goody; trouble follows her wherever she goes. Mosca is one of the strongest characters in youth fiction - independent, courageous and entertaining, with appeal to both young male and female readers. Disaster piles up around her, but her resourceful character usually sees her come out on top. She comes alive in Hardinge's inventive hands.
Hardinge obviously had fun with her characters, settings and plot. This is one of those rare novels that you read with a smile of satisfaction constantly plastered on your lips.
John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]