Book Review: The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

🌺🌺🌺.5 (3.5/5)

The planet of January is tidally locked, with one side always facing the day, the other facing the night. In the narrow band of twilight humans live in the authoritarian Xiosphant, where waking and sleeping and strictly regimented and everyone knows their place in society. Student Sophie follows her friend Bianca to a group of student revolutionaries, but Sophie’s decision to take the blame for Bianca sends both girls on a course that will change Xiosphant—and the planet itself.

Okay. I’m 100% torn about rating this novel.

The world-building is absolutely incredible.

Xiosphant is a city ruled by time and forgetfulness, where it’s a crime/social taboo to declare what compartment of the Mothership your ancestors were on. There are two mountains that protect the city from the murderous sunlight, and revolving farmwheels so that crops can get enough sunlight. Everyone is uptight and always in a hurry due to the mandatory curfews of shuttersup, when everyone is supposed to be in bed and sleeping (and you cannot sleep during the day because you are supposed to be productive). There’s a type of money for everything, with makeshift “banks” who transform your money into other types of money so you can buy what you need. It’s a fascinating economy and the language was also fascinating.

Yet despite the relative stability (relative being the key word since all of the machinery is slowly breaking down and the resources are wasting away), there is a lot of discontent, because there are Rules and rules and a definite hierarchy (and a rich history of revolution and authoritarianism, particularly with the Circadian Revolution, which implemented the regimented waking and sleep hours).

And a study in contrast is the other city (this is not a spoiler), Argelan, whose ancestors seceded from Xiosphant because they hated the rules and is basically a city under complete and utter anarchy. Okay, not complete anarchy, because most everything is controlled by one of the Nine Families, who are basically organized gangs. Everything except the disintegrating sewer system, because none of the families want to claim that. There are no mandated sleep times, so it’s the City That Never Sleeps and is basically a nonstop party of wildness and murder and bloodshed, literally tearing itself apart from the inside out.

In between the two cities are various little towns that scrape their own livings, but life outside the safety of the cities is not safe at all, since the planet is filled with things that want to murder and eat humans. There are creatures that have human names for other things, which takes some mental gymnastics to get sorted into what the things actually look like—like bison and crocodiles, which look nothing like what we consider bison and crocodiles at all.

And of course there are the crocodiles, but their whole deal is chock-full of spoilers so I’m not going there at all.

Okay, so that’s the bare bones world-building.

Plotwise, it was slow and then built speed (with some scary stuff in between but lots of down time in the cities where the main characters are figuring out what to do and what their purpose is) until by the last sixty pages it was full-tilt batshit bonkers, with lots of revolving plots and subplots and machinations and I’m sitting here like “Oh shit there is a lot to wrap up in four pages what the fuck is this a standalone?”

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Literally me during the last twenty pages

And then that ending happened.

And what was on its way to be a solid four to five star read solely for the fantastic world-building (seriously, it’s fascinating and complex and I loved how the implications of living in both worlds were fully explored) unraveled into me screaming into my purple bathwater—

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yes, I enjoy bath bombs and yes I also hate myself

So.

Read for the absolutely balls-to-walls wild world.

Read for some will-they-won’t-they sapphic romance.

Read for an interesting exploration of the meaning of history and human selective remembering and memory—and the meaning of history when your people remember everything.

And be prepared to shout “WTF NO NOT LIKE THIS” at the end.

And hope fervently this sells enough to generate a sequel.

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