Charlie Jane Anders writing is always gripping and complex, and in this story, she turns away from Earth and the possible end of the world to take us on a take into a dark dystopic future full of politics and speculation. On the tidally locked planet of January, where humanity exists in the twilight, routine and fear are just part of everyday life. After generations, the people of January have still not fully adjusted to living in permanent dusk, where on the side with sunshine you could be killed within seconds, or on the other side of perpetual night you could still be killed but it would be a slow painful death. Humanity on January is stuck living in two extremes, there is the city of Xiosphant, where everything is run on precision timing, from what time you eat, sleep, work etc. to Argelo, known as the city that never sleeps. Both of these bastions of human civilisation have problems that seem too big to fix.
The lead characters Sophie and Mouth are fundamental opposites of each other, and yet they are both searching for somewhere to belong. Sophie is very quiet and although never actively rebelled against her upbringing, she found ways to put off what was expected of her. Sophie ends up at the University in Xiosphant where she feels not only like an outsider, but also an imposter, as she is not part of the Elite of the city. Mouth, when we meet her, is definitely a rebel, she is part of a group of smugglers moving between Xiosphant and Argelo, trading what they can, Mouth is happy being on the road, as she was part of a group of nomads when she was a child and longs to have that life again.
The secondary characters that Sophie and Mouth interact with are a huge part of the story. Without Sophie’s roommate Bianca, there would be no story, as Sophie joins a group of student revolutionaries who want to change the system because of Bianca. Sophie’s whole life changes when she decides to protect Bianca, but it also changes Bianca in unforeseen ways. Alyssa on the other hand is also part of the smuggling group with Mouth. Alyssa feels that she may be getting too old for the smuggling life and wants stability in her life. Mouth doesn’t understand this feeling, but also can’t see herself wanting to live without Alyssa.
This is a really dystopian story that really deals with how hard it is to not only change a system but to convince people’s hearts and minds that there are other ways to live. Sophie is saved by Rose, who is part of the native species of January, known as Gelert. Humanity has been taught to fear the Gelert, and have taken this fear so far that they call the Gelert crocodiles and hunt them for meat. The story really starts to change pace, after Sophie’s encounter with Rose.
The City in the Middle of the Night is a story about communication or the lack of it. During the novel, everyone’s feelings are hurt due to miscommunication and misunderstandings, but no one is really trying to understand where these people they care about are coming from and it feels like people are just using them to further their own agendas. The book inherently shows the divisiveness of human nature. Even in the natures of the two cities, Xiosphant is all about order, whereas Argelo is chaos, even though both cities are resource-poor, they constantly try to recycle old technology for new needs, rather than finding a way to work together.
I really enjoyed this story, although it was hard to read in places. It was really good to see the growth of both Sophie and Mouth when they finally accept the truths they are confronted with. There is a lot of soul searching in this novel, and it does make you question what is evil and inhumane? There are numerous instances that make you worry about the main characters, but also make you angry at them as well as the injustice of the world they live in, this isn’t a world you want to be part of but it is one you can believe in.
Review by Michelle Herbert
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