The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders
|The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders|
|Category: Science Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ruth Wilson|
|Summary: This is an unusual story about a land of literal fire and ice. Two cities live precariously between scorching sun and freezing ice on a planet that is slowly dying. This novel explores the impact of time and history on a population facing the end of theirs, and questions the lengths some will go to for the sake of humanity.|
|Buy? No||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 385||Date: February 2019|
|Publisher: Tor Books|
January is a dying planet. It wasn't exactly pleasant to begin with. One half is scorching sunlight, pure, blazing heat, and totally uninhabitable. The other half is pure darkness and ice, where a creature can freeze to death in seconds, and totally uninhabitable. In the middle is a brief twilight that is barely survivable. Life is a knife-edge, stray too close to one side you die, to close to the other, you die and yet the heat from the sun and the water from the ice are necessary for life. Life for the inhabitants of January is long, and hard, and arduous, will anything ever change?
I can't honestly say I enjoyed this book, for several reasons, but mainly I think my expectations of this book were totally wrong. When I began this book, I expected a story where a group of young revolutionary students found themselves thrust into circumstances to try to save their dying planet. This book is not that. I expected action, strong characters and dramatic twists. It never happens. Even the climax of the book isn't climactic, rather a culmination of events into a tidy ending. That said, my disappointment is not a failing of the novel itself so I shall endeavor to do it justice.
The major theme throughout the story is time, the impact of the past on the future, the part history plays in society, and the value heritage has in family groups. The novel begins in the city of Xiosphant. As a means of control, time is closely measured and policed. Everybody must do the exact same thing at the exact same time or they can be arrested. All history has been erased, history of culture, of religion, of dress. There is no discord because no one has any time or knowledge to be discordant. Sophie, our heroine, struggles in this lifestyle. She doesn't mind the routines but she struggles with the lack of emotional attachment after the death of her mother so when she goes to university and meets the beautiful and enigmatic Bianca she attaches to her instead. Unfortunately, Bianca is nothing but bad for Sophie and continues, throughout the book, to lead Sophie down an increasingly dangerous path.
Sophie and Mouth are arguably the main characters in the story, we follow Sophie's desperate attempts to find a history for herself and Mouth's attempts to reconcile the death of her culture, but this is supported by a cast of brilliant smaller characters who all add to this important sense of culture and time. Rose is an alien, a Gelet, yet shows Sophie the first selfless kindness she has ever received; she shows Sophie a place of welcome. Ahmad is proud of his old Khartoum legacy and shares it with Sophie, how it shapes his home, his family, his sense of self. Barney is the last survivor of Mouth's religion and is the only one who she feels can give her a sense of place and home. Hernan is hugely important as he not only teaches Sophie about herself but he also knew her mother so gives her an important link back to the mother she has lost. These smaller characters are beautifully crafted and one of my favourite parts of the story, they add a real depth to the plot and in many ways I found them more powerful that Sophie.
Sophie's desperation to belong means that when she finally meets the Gelet, the planet's native inhabitants, she is open minded and able to communicate with them, to try to find a solution to the problems troubling all of January's inhabitants. The theme of time continues within the Gelet community who have a different sense of time, not chronological but rather a sense of importance. If an event was important enough to be worth taking note of, of sharing then it was important, it is important and it will continue to be important. This is a revelation to Sophie who has gone from a society of the immediate to a society of the ever continuing.
I have my criticisms of this book, the weakness in Sophie's character is incredibly frustrating at times and the lack of depth in Bianca's equally so, and at times the plot is very slow. But it also has its merits and for those who are devoted science fiction fans or those who like a book that is slower to evolve then there is a lot to recommend in this one. Would I recommend it? Yes, I think I would. For something similar you could also try The Twisted Tree by Rachel Burge.
You can read more book reviews or buy The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The City In The Middle Of The Night by Charlie Jane Anders at Amazon.com.
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