This is exactly the type of book I have been statistically not enjoying as of late. However, the dystopian society setting with the promise of a hunt for magic was alluring as hell. I have to say, this book took me by surprise and I ended up loving it so much more than I thought I would.
We meet Nirrim and are instantly shown the nature of her life in the Ward, a walled off part of Ethin. She is Half-Kith, which essentially means she is lowly. We are quickly shown that there is a hierarchical difference that exists within society. The novel basically starts with a circumstance that presents Nirrim with a choice, to play it safe or to take a risk. Within the first few pages of this book we are shown the framework by which this society works around and from this, it is clear Nirrim struggles internally with the expectation that she must strictly stay within this framework. The circumstance that forces Nirrim to make a choice is the appearance of the Elysium bird, a bird that represents high status and privilege, something that is clearly out of place in the Ward. Not only for Nirrim, but everyone in the Ward, this bird represents temptation, it could be sold and grant someone a fortune or perhaps just the satisfaction of knowing they could catch it. But for Nirrim, the bird tempted her in a calming way she hasn’t felt in the Ward before. So that is why she went to catch it.
The Ward is patrolled by soldiers and exists under a harsh regiment, being bordered off from the fanciful parts of town. Despite the downtrodden nature of where she lives, Nirrim is happy enough. She works for Raven, the maternal figure that saved Nirrim from the orphanage, at her Tavern doing whatever needs doing, as well as an underground forger of passports so people can escape the Ward. Despite Nirrim’s undying love and sense of obligation to Raven, it is clear to the reader and literally every other character in the book, Raven is a manipulative figure taking advantage of Nirrim’s need for a maternal figure and maintains her allegiance through guilt. Nirrim is also in a sort-of relationship with Aden, the hottest guy in town, who gives off hugely rapey vibes, but it is clear to the reader, and Nirrim, that she doesn’t really want to be in this relationship. Nirrim sticks around because she knows he loves her, and for Nirrim that is reason enough; “He kissed me and I let him. Sometimes it can feel so good to give someone what they want that it is the next best thing to getting what you want,” news flash Nirrim NOT REALLY. From these relationships being at the forefront of Nirrim’s life it is clear that she clings to any sliver of care/love shown to her, despite the really poor intentions, because of her underlying abandonment issues and just simply, not knowing any better.
The allure of this novel is the unknown, not just to us but to Nirrim as well. In jail she is met with a mysterious traveller, Sid, who is a self confessed liar and not to be trusted. However, Sid and Nirrim form a unique bond which leads them together into a little quest to find the magic Sid hears exists in Ethin. The adventure that ensues is one of realisations, truth, and self-satisfaction that branch much farther than just the pursuit of magic. For me, this novel was more a journey of self discovery under the guise of an adventure. Without meeting Sid and being lured into this mystical journey, Nirrim never would have had the opportunity to go beyond the confines of her life, both the physical and metaphorical ones. That is why this novel struck such a chord with me is because of the inevitable, yet natural realisations that came from broadened horizons. For me, while I obviously wanted the novel to fulfil its purpose and reveal some magic to me, the true magic I yearned for was for Nirrim to realize her self worth and rise above the obvious mistreatment she has been under for essentially her whole life.
I think perhaps this journey of growth is what really allowed me to fully enjoy this book. It was about more than the usual mundane woe-is-me story or annoying love story. Love is not the main takeaway we get from this book, and it was extremely refreshing to read a fun fantasy novel and not feel endlessly annoyed about the forceful insertions of love, just for the sake of it. However, I must note that romance and love does play a role in this novel. The relationship and the way it played out is fresh in itself. When two characters form a bond by BONDING not just due to the apparent existence of a bond, I think that is something to be celebrated. Truthfully, I was shocked and super engaged in the way the relationship played out so I don’t want to reveal much more about it to allow you to have the same satisfying experience.
However, the drawbacks of the novel for me were that at times I was left a little confused. But after some research, I learnt that this novel was set in the world of Rutkoski’s previous Winner’s trilogy. But due to my general distaste for the genre I don't think I will endeavor to read them to clear up this confusion. At times I found the pacing of the story to be a little inconsistent. We met a point of unknown quickly, which I greatly appreciated, but from there it seemed as though the quest did not match the pace set from the initial introductions and action. Despite this, I did personally take a lot from this slow pace, but I don’t know if people who are simply in it for a magical journey will feel the same? However, again, from my expert googling, I found that this novel is going to be a duology (thank goodness, all I’ll say in regards to the ending) so I think perhaps this lends some explanation to why the novel was paced as such. It’ll be interesting to read the second book and consider if it could have simply been one longer novel? Sometimes that’s the case, but if you get signed for two books, you have to write two books.
All in all though, this book was an extremely pleasant surprise and I was so glad I could come away from it and truthfully say that I enjoyed it. As I have said in the past, I do really enjoy reading fantasy novels, but it is just rare that I click with them these days. So, again, I was really glad I enjoyed this and that it was, ultimately, more than just a quest for magic, but a story about the empowerment of a strong woman who has always been treated as if she isn’t worth very much.
The Midnight Lie
356 pages. 2020.