"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The City in the Middle of the Night

TITLE: The City in the Middle of the Night
AUTHOR: Charlie Jane Anders

I'd read some nice reviews for this, and both the plot and setting sounded interesting, so I decided to give this a try. First off, it's very readable, a fairly linear story told from the pov of two late teenage (I assume) female characters: Sophie (first person narration) and mouth (third person narration. Second, the blurb was no more than an approximation of what goes on in the book. Perhaps I shouldn't have read it, but I did, and it gave me expectations regarding how the story would play out. I don't mind surprises in books. In fact, I love a good plot twist, but in this case, the inaccuracies were just enough to be annoying.

Now for my (non-spoiler) review.

The setting is a planet called January, many generations after the Mothership arrived from Earth. Nearly half of January is a cold wasteland where night never ends, while the other side of the planet is in perpetual, blazing light. The narrow temperate zone is the only place where humanity can survive, though travel between the two main cities is treacherous. I had some difficulties envisioning this and wished there had been a map. I love maps.

Sophie, the first person narrator, is an idealistic, quiet, naive, good-hearted college student enamored of her bunkmate Bianca. They have big dreams of changing the culture of the restrictive, regimented life in their city. Mouth, whose story unfolds in third person narration, runs with a group of smugglers after having been raised by nomads who never got around to giving her a real name. She's a hot mess, sarcastic, closed-off, unable to stay in one place for too long.

The plot is kicked off when Sophie is sent to an expected death in the planet's dark side after she protected Bianca from being caught in a minor theft, and ended up being the one arrested. But instead of dying, Sophie is saved by one of the creatures that lives in the planet's dark. And then....

If you're intrigued, the book is worth reading to find out what happens. Some fascinating questions are explored, such as how time works on a planet where it's always day or always night. The two cities treat time very differently, and have different languages and customs. There are the species native to January and a declining climate system causing a toxic rain. And there's a seemingly pretentious "Translator's Note" before the story begins, that makes more sense after the story is read.

So, this should've been a slam-dunk 5-star book for me, but it wasn't. It's mostly a small story set on a big science-fictional world, where the setting supports the character arcs. Which isn't bad, but I prefer a better mix. At its core, this reads like a YA novel, with Sophie and mouth coming to terms with who they are, what they want, and how best to get it. There are times I want to slap Sophie silly for her undying devotion to Bianca, a young woman so good at manipulating people. It takes the whole book pretty much for Sophie to realize and accept some truths about Bianca.

Bottom line, this is a good, enjoyable book. But it could have been much more.

No comments:

Post a Comment