Enjoyable Fantasy Romance, But Too Formulaic To Be Groundbreaking
The Girl at Midnight
by Melissa Grey
Publication Date: April 28, 2015
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Booklist, Kirkus Reviews
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
In any fantasy novel there must be world-building. How the author accomplishes it can make or break a book. In The Girl at Midnight (the title neatly reflects both the book’s attention-grabbing prologue and its ending), the world-building starts in the first paragraph when we meet “the Ala”, a member of the Avicen, a race of feathered humans. Over the next few chapters we are introduced to The Nest, the Avicen’s underground world; we meet the prime movers of the Drakharin, humans with dragon-like scales: Caius, their Prince, Dorian, his doggedly faithful, one-eyed Captain of the Guard, and Tanith, Caius’ power-hungry twin sister; and learn about the lengthy war between the two races and the legendary Firebird, an unknown something, that could put an end to it. It is a lot to take in, especially as we are also getting to know our protagonist, Echo, a teenage human girl with strong ties to the Avicen, and her array of feathered friends. Our ability to remember names and absorb facts is challenged: Dorian, we find, is in unrequited love with Caius, who still dreams of his lost love, an Avicen named Rose, a hundred years dead; the Ala is a thousand years old, Caius and Dorian two hundred and fifty, the war a hundred; the Drakharin magically travel through physical gateways, while Echo creates her own passages using Shadow Dust; there’s Rowan, Echo’s love interest, her BFF Ivy, hateful Ruby, Altair, Perrin, Jasper, and so on. It’s partly captivating, partly confusing, but once the plot takes hold a quarter of the way through, the main characters dominate the action, everything falls into place, and we are off and running.
It’s not difficult to keep turning the novel’s pages — action abounds and the characters develop into people whose fates we care about. Grey’s writing is generally solid, although she relies too often on YA fantasy devices, such as inserting back-to-back chapters devoted solely to dreams in order to inject excitement (artificial and meaningless though it is) into an otherwise quiet section of the book. It’s unfortunate because it undercuts the shocking and far more exciting events that soon follow. Omitting the dreams would have tightened the plot by eliminating useless chapters and kept Midnight apart from the norm. Instead, the book falls into line with the majority of its genre.
A larger and more annoying problem is the overwhelming amount of blushing that goes on (at least 24 instances!). When under the eye of the men they have feelings for, Echo and Dorian blush/flush/turn pink to an unrealistic degree. A teenage girl we can forgive, but to have a battle-hardened, battle-scarred dragon-warrior repeatedly acting like a blushing bride is irritating, and ultimately reduces him to caricature. In fact, it is an odd thing, but for the most part the leading men in Midnight seem emasculated (Altair, the war-mongering Avicen, is the exception), while the most forceful characters are the females. Caius displays a cold-hearted cruelty in those early chapters, but after that, the trait mysteriously vanishes from his character. Comparing the two, the reader can’t help but think that the decisive, merciless Tanith is a far better choice to lead her people in a war.
Despite these problems, The Girl at Midnight is a good read. And though it is the first in a series, the novel feels complete and ends on a satisfying note.
— Jennifer Michelle
3.5 of 5 Hearts. Enjoyable Fantasy Romance, But Too Formulaic To Be Groundbreaking.
Penguin Random House’s web site accurately classifies The Girl at Midnight as both YA Romance and YA Fantasy. Romance tends to dominate as opposites quickly attract one another, though the fantasy element is successful. Grey’s occasionally formulaic prose weakens the novel — “A pale pink flush crept up Dorian’s neck”; “a blush creeping up her cheeks”; “A pink flush crept up Dorian’s pale neck”; among many other similar instances. — and had her dragon-warriors retained more of the beast in them, the book would have been much improved. But her heroine saves the day: Echo is quick-thinking, confident, humorous, and easy to like, and the reader can’t help but be interested in her fate.
*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Penguin Random House, Delacorte Press, and NetGalley for providing me a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”