The Midnight Charter by David Whitley

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The Midnight Charter by David Whitley

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Madeline Wheatley
Reviewed by Madeline Wheatley
Summary: David Whitley's first book is a fantasy set in the city of Agora, a place where you can buy anything, including human lives and emotions. In this utopian dream gone sour two very different young people hold the future in their hands. The Midnight Charter is the key to their destiny so they really need to find and understand it…
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: August 2009
Publisher: Puffin
ISBN: 978-0141323718

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Being dead was colder than Mark had expected. Who could resist the opening line of this book? The story of the unhappy city of Agora quickly drew me in, and the contrasting experiences of Mark and Lily reveal all sides of life inside the city walls.

The tale is told from the children's perspective, beginning just before Mark's twelfth birthday and ending less than two years later. This enhances the sense of fear in the first chapters as Mark in particular is dealing with a world he is still learning about. Many aspects of it terrify him. Everything in Agora is based on ownership and trade, even children are regarded as possessions to be sold, and as the author comments no one listened to a tool that talked.

The sale of emotions is a strong underlying theme in the story that encapsulates the sorry state of Agora. Feelings such as ambition, love, obsession, and disgust are extracted by machine, individually bottled and sold as the drugs of choice in this city. The effect this has on the people of Agora is one of the most powerfully realised parts of the book.

In his descriptions of this barter-based state there are signs that David Whitley could develop into an interesting satirist for young readers. I loved his temple selling enlightenment and spirituality that was closed down for theft because some of the customers felt no different even after multiple purchases.

The different choices made by Lily and Mark are poignant, and reminded me of the central characters of Nathaniel and Kitty in the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. Alongside Mark and Lily is a city full of Dickensian characters, some more fully developed than others. Among my favourites are the manipulative Miss Devine and the childlike Cherubina with her room full of life-like dolls.

So why have I given it a star rating of 3.5? After racing through the first two hundred pages completely bound up in Mark and Lily's tale, I found that the pace slowed down and the plot became rather too diluted by a series of minor events. This did not phase my daughter who merely said just read that bit faster Mum, the ending's really good. And she's right: the ending is intriguing. It resolves the story, but leaves the way open for more. Whitley is working on his second book, and The Midnight Charter is planned as the first part of a trilogy.

Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag. We also have a review of The Children of the Lost by David Whitley.

Further reading suggestion: Try Incarceron by Catherine Fisher for another intense, enclosed world, or Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, the prequel to the Mortal Engines series.

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