April 10, 2019

Review: The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book has an interesting concept, but the execution is....less so. This tale of a human settlement on a tidally locked planet (half in white-hot killer sunlight, half in frozen dark wastelands, with only a narrow center strip of habitable land) with slowly decaying technology, failing crops, changing climate, governmental upheavals, and deadly encounters with the native species, could have been an exciting adventure story in the right hands.

Unfortunately, that isn't this book.

There are a lot of problems with this book, but the deal-breakers for me were the pacing and the ending. This book is not well paced at all. A huge chunk of the center is simply a meandering, aimless muddle taking up pages for precious little purpose. The main characters wander here and there, get into trouble and out again, fight and escape death and settle in a new place that's worse than the first, and none of it serves to advance either characterization or plot, as far as I was concerned. Then, after the two main characters descend into the titular City and the Big Plot Point is finally revealed, the pacing becomes so breakneck there's no room to breathe or absorb what's happening. This plays right into the frankly terrible ending: with the last part (7 of 7) remaining, I realized there was way too few pages to account for all the plot threads and character beats that had been laid down. Sure enough, this book did not so much end as fizzle to a most unsatisfying halt, with all the storylines twisting in the wind. I looked at the last page and said, "Are you effing kidding me?" I'm not really one to throw books (especially hardbacks I've paid for) against the wall, but I assure you I thought about it.

The protagonists are not terribly well drawn either, and in particular there were several points where I wanted to slap Sophie. There's teenage angst, and being caught in the throes of first love, and then there's just being stupid (such as not realizing what the intensity of her feelings for Bianca really meant until the book was almost over, and repeatedly trying to redeem Bianca long after it should have been evident that there was no redemption). The book was much better--if there was a point where it could be termed "good" at all--when Sophie and Mouth were in the underground City, and Bianca was nowhere to be seen. In fact, now that I think about it, let's throw down the gauntlet and chop Bianca and her baggage right on out. Make this a tale of first contact, and the humans struggling to understand the Gelet, and the two species working together to overcome the horror of the humans' unknowingly despoiling the planet, and there might be an actual story here, instead of a mess.

That's what so frustrated me about this book, because I glimpsed the bones of what could have been, but they were almost completely buried. If there is a sequel to this book, I am not going to bother.

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