The Midnight Lie by Marie Rutkoski

Nerrim lives in the Ward. It's a district of limitations, of danger and drudgery. Hers is a near colourless existence made bearable by her found family and the secret work she performs to help other Half Kith live free. When the Elysium bird appears one day, it brings change with it, triggering a series of events that transforms Nerrim’s life. The world around her is made uncertain, it’s a place full of lies.

So you tell me what would make a good, quiet girl get herself in trouble, especially when she had so much to lose.

Tell me.

By far the most impressive part of The Midnight Lie is the writing, the author playing with lyrical or prosaic language in turn. Each sentence is cleverly crafted and beautifully evocative, emphasising the tone of the scene or clashing with it in arresting discord. It has sentences that stop you in your tracks; more than the weirdness of this imagined world, it is the enchantment of the words that take you somewhere magical. It’s this poetic style which makes the book stand out. Of course, it's impossible to read about this kind of dystopia, typified by its rule-bound, stratified society and victimised group, without recalling the many, MANY other YA books that begin with the same concept. It's a pretty crowded genre in which to impress, but while the namings here feel somewhat contrived, the larger world-building is effectively realised. It might not feel new, but it still works, especially since, for me at least, it seemed merely the foil that allowed the characters to shine.

And what characters they are! Identity is at the heart of this and the book never stops questioning what it takes to be who you are. Nerrim is a fascinating creation, far from the traditional heroine so often set up as the protagonist in these kinds of stories. Her voice is contemplative, somewhat naive, and quite clearly institutionalised, but increasingly determined to ask questions and find her way. Her journey is nothing less than the finding of self. It’s a believably slow discovery of truths by a girl caught in webs of emotional manipulation, obligation, and expectation. The realities of both world and character are deliberately obstructed, muddied by what Nerrim thinks she knows and by visions which make her unsure of what’s real. While the reader treads the same path of enlightenment as Nerrim, learning most of the important details of plot and place at the same pace as she does, there are some issues hidden from her that we see with brutal clarity. Her problematic relationships are vividly painted, presenting a jarring distance between us and her. That is, until Sid arrives and brings our understanding into the story, revealing to Nerrim what we cannot. Yet Sid is not all she seems either. Both Nerrim and Sid have their own paths, their own challenges, each mediating between their own desires and what others want them to be. Their f/f relationship is delicious, both flirty and fun. Its promise is what brought me to the book and it sure delivered.

I wondered what kind of night was so precious that when morning came it felt as if you had been robbed, as if what you wanted most had been cut from you like a bloody tithe.

I had never had a night worth stealing.

There’s NO WAY that I won’t be finding out where this story goes. To call the final section a cliffhanger is to undersell it. My dropped jaw hit the floor hard enough to bruise and I'm still not over it. If you graphed this book, it'd look like a steady rise upwards, a progressive building of action, emotion, and character. But the epilogue... that hits so hard it wouldn't even be on the same chart. I did that 'you cannot be serious' thing where you have to read and then reread the section because so much happens over so few lines that it feels unreal. But it definitely made an impact and it's oh so clever, because what comes next is going to cause a ton of pain and discord. My heart is going to hurt… I know it. And I can't wait.

One final thing. While her previous series, the Winner's Trilogy, is apparently set in the same world as this, it’s certainly possible to start your journey here, as I did. Other reviewers have noted that there are connections, but that this can and should be taken on its own merit. Besides, finding this author now just means I have a whole new set of books to add to my wishlist. I'm ready to be wowed.

9/10 Each sentence is cleverly crafted and beautifully evocative

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