Monday, February 18, 2019

Review: The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
Tor, 2019
Hardcover. 368 pages.

About The City in the Middle of the Night:

"''If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams... And from there, it's easy to control our entire lives.' 

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace -- though the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below. 

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet--before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence."

It's been a hard time trying to collect my thoughts around this book. On the one hand, it's a really fascinating look at a new planet and what it means to be human and a majority female cast, but on the other hand... it's at times a dry, uninteresting story about some highly unlikable characters. 

The world-building in The City in the Middle of the Night is one of the most interesting parts of the book. I actually wish that there had been more of it because although there is a good amount of explanation, there were still some pretty big gaps in my understanding of the world, and I wish I could have explored it further. Despite that, I still found it extremely intelligent and well-crafted and I certainly commend Anders on creating such a fascinating world.

The second most interesting aspect of this book are the 'crocodiles' that most people are frightened of, but that Sophie befriends and the subsequent events that follow. I think this exploration of humanity and the desire to advance society and technology is a truly captivating topic and I wish this book had spent more time on this area than it did on some of the characters and their relationships.

If this book was to be judged solely on the two above things I mentioned, it would probably get close to five stars from me, but unfortunately I didn't enjoy other aspects of this book, such as with the characters and their storylines. In general, as I've mentioned in numerous reviews, I have no problems with unlikable characters or narrators. I actually love some books with unlikable characters because, for me, there's something extra special about being engaged in a book and story when you don't even like the protagonist, but you still want to know what they will do and what will happen to them. Sadly, the unlikable characters in this book had very few redeeming factors and were instead rather bland, frustrating, and altogether uninteresting.

Before I jump into specifics about some of the characters, I do want to point out that the main characters in this book are all women, and I think that's something worth noting because it's rare when male characters are in such a small role that they aren't even part of the core cast, so I really appreciated that aspect. However, my biggest issues with the characters was their frustrating relationships with one another and their actions. The characters with the biggest roles are Sophie (the first POV we follow), Mouth (the second POV we follow), Bianca, and Alyssa. Sophie acts as one of the main protagonists and is exceptionally difficult to connect with. There are plenty of moments when I can mostly follow her thought process and understand her choices, but there are just as many--if not more--where I cannot for the life of me grasp what she could possibly be thinking when she makes the most horrible decisions. I know characters make dumb decisions sometimes--half the books out there wouldn't exist without that--but Sophie is too unpredictable and hard to follow. 

The next character is Mouth, who I would say is probably the most relatable and potentially likable character of the bunch. I don't have a lot of frustrations with her overall, but in spite of that I still didn't feel overly connected to her. I cared about what happened to her, but not that much. Still, I appreciated her strength and no-nonsense attitude when it came to some things she did or did not want to do. Mouth's closest friend--who could also potentially be her lesbian partner though it's never explicitly stated--Alyssa, is a character whose strong loyalty to Mouth is something I admire. However, she also seemed very flighty in other regards and her opinions and actions seemed to flip easily. 

The last brief character I want to mention is Bianca, and that's mainly to say that I couldn't stand her. To be fair, I don't particularly think we're supposed to like her, but since Sophie was so obsessed with her it made it almost unbearable to follow someone so insufferable, ignorant, and selfish. There are other characters in this book that range quite a bit in personality, and some that I liked more than others, such as Barney and Ahmad, but otherwise the remaining characters do not particularly stand out.

Overall, my conflicted feelings over this book continue. Parts I genuinely loved and parts I couldn't stand. Because of this, I've ended up somewhere between three and four stars, though probably closer to the three. If you enjoy big themes and the exploration unprecedented worlds, then this might be worth a look for you. I only wish the characters' and their storylines were more interesting.

*I received an ARC of The City in the Middle of the Night courtesy of Tor Books in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating of the book.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Book Depository | IndieBound


  1. Wow that sounds insane. And crocodiles that she becomes friends with!? That's amazing. Sad that not everything was top notch though. I have a hard time with bad characters. It can really make or break a book. Especially if they're really bad.

    Ash @ JennRenee Read

    1. Yeah, it was such an off-and-on book for me. I'd definitely still recommend it because it has some awesome aspects, but the characters just really frustrated me.

  2. I'll admit I'm dying to read this and was hoping to get a review copy, but sorry it didn't all work out for you. I did love Anders' last book so this may be more to my taste.

    1. I really hope you enjoy it when you read it! It's definitely not a 'bad' book and has so many neat things going for it, it's mainly just the characters that didn't work for me.