The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books on February 12, 2019
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg: 3.56 (as of 2020-06-29)
Would you give up everything to change the world?
Humanity clings to life on January–a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.
Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization–but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.
Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives–with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.
Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge–and they are running out of time.
Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night
Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violent. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another.
This was such a strange book that felt almost needlessly complicated in some aspects. I could tell that Anders was extremely into her world building but I found it difficult to suspend my disbelief for some aspects of it. It reminded me a bit of Amatka: a society filled with unyielding rules. The comparisons largely end there, though.
I never felt strongly connected to any of the characters. Sophie didn’t feel solid enough as a pov character; she never really bypassed concept into full-fledged character for me and I didn’t feel like she had much agency. I struggled similarly with Mouth, who started off as a caricature and morphed into something softer that I didn’t quite understand. I just never felt fully convinced by either of them. The dialogue itself, while largely good, felt stilted in some parts. There were random scenes where I thought, “no one talks like that.”
I really struggled with the message of the story for a bit. It sort of felt like it was trying to push too many storylines together at once. If it was expanded into a series this would have made more sense, but as is it had a kind of claustrophobic feel to it. My mind was constantly dragged in several different directions and I wasn’t really sure what to expect next, but not necessarily in a good way.
I did really admire the way this tackled toxic relationships. Sophie is deeply in love with her best friend Bianca, although seemingly unable to admit it to herself. Bianca is privileged, self-centered, and blind to anything that doesn’t impact her directly. It was frustrating watching Sophie return to Bianca over and over, but it also makes sense in the context of their relationship (until their last meeting — that didn’t make sense to me).
Regardless of my criticisms, this was highly readable and I hope people will still give it a shot. I hit points where I just didn’t want to put the book down because the writing was so compelling and I really wanted to see what would happen next. It’s a good book, but I think cutting down a little would have gone a long way.