Who is ready for some queer fantasy? BECAUSE I SURE AS HECK AM. At first, I couldn’t remember why I had requested The Midnight Lie on Netgalley and then (you can watch this on one of my book haul videos) I realised that this was being marketed as an LGBTQIA+ fantasy book and it all made sense. The Midnight Lie is the first book by Marie Rutkoski that I’ve ever read so it was an exciting adventure on all levels.
Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colours. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences. Nirrim keeps her head down, and a dangerous secret close to her chest. But then she encounters id, a rakish traveller from far away, who whispers rumours that the High Kith possess magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.
Cw: questionable consent (off-page), abusive behaviour (in a parental relationship)
Ok, I have a lot of feelings. Let’s go.
This book setting isn’t totally unfamiliar to YA readers, I’m sure. The Midnight Lie joins the ranks of many other such books where the ‘lower classes’ are kept from various luxuries and our plucky main character rises above the class divide to challenge everyone’s expectations – it’s a story that is all at once familiar and kind of comforting. To be perfectly honest, I would have been tempted to leave this book to one side was it not for the promise of a queer relationship.
So let’s start with the worldbuilding – or society building as the case may be. The biggest aspect of this story, the driving ‘unfairness’ in this world is tied to status. Those with high status, the High Kith, can wear more colours and explore more pleasures than those who are lower status (as Nirrim is). I thought that this was an interesting way of depicting a class divide – more often than not it’s taken for granted that lower status characters won’t have luxurious items because they are poor – this takes that display of wealth into a much more structured place – and I think it works, it makes those transitions between status groups even clearer, and Nirrim’s movement within those groups feels more definite and powerful. I know that this is a matter of personal preference, but I feel like perhaps a few more clearly set out concrete examples of different things a particular group could or could not have would have not only been interesting but might have saved some time in the rest of the narrative. I’m envisioning some declarations or something similar between parts perhaps? But I also know some people really hate those so perhaps I shall just imagine them for myself!
Let’s go on to the characters and the romance (which are fairly intertwined). I thought Nirrim was a good character, certainly a good protagonist. What I look for in books such as this one is whether the inevitable character growth feels realistic and believable – I don’t want a sudden transformation from meek mouse to warrior princess because it feels like a facade. In this case, I think the gradual movement of Nirrim’s character as well as how she adapts to the influence of different people in her life was really well written. I am always here for a story where a character has to unlearn the things they believed to be true and this was one such story.
So what about the romance? This book is most definitely a fantasy romance at heart, emphasis on that romantic storyline. Knowing that going in always helps me to not get too attached to plot aspects that I know won’t get as much development so hopefully, that helps you too! I fell head over heels for this romance. It may be that I hadn’t read a lovely romance story for a while and it was nice to read two characters falling in love after a fair few examples of purely miserable books – who can say? But no, basically any time Nirrim and Sid were apart I was just desperate for the next part of the book where they were together again. And yes, some of the story is quite cheesy, and yes, it is the ‘rich girl sweeps the low-status girl up in a world of intrigue but it’s ok because she doesn’t think it’s right she’s just rich and there’s nothing to be done about it’ story but guess what: sometimes that is really nice to read!
I’m going to reserve judgement on whether I think this book is a good f/f story (switching to using f/f as opposed to LGBTQIA+ here because let’s be honest this book does not cover all of that acronym) until I’ve read the second book – because it’s either the most frustrating ‘why can’t we have gay romance with happy endings?’ story or it’ll be a great romance across two books. It’s not a call I can make at this stage so I’m reserving my judgement until then. Suffice to say this book has me hooked on these two characters and I’ll be banging on the doors of the publisher’s office as soon as I think they might have a finished manuscript.
I had a great time reading this book, it has a lot of the elements I love in a ‘comfort read’ with the added benefit of being f/f – I’d recommend it for a rainy afternoon or a late night curled up in a comfy chair – though fair warning you will then have to join me desperately awaiting book two.
My rating: 4 / 5 stars
I received a free digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
The Midnight Lie is out March 3rd!
What say you? Will you be reading this? Let me know in the comments below!