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

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

The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders

Science Fiction: The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders

Sophie has worked hard and overcome a lot to get into the university. Her roommate, Bianca, is a child of privilege and aristocracy. Sophie cannot help but be swept into Bianca’s orbit, but when Bianca makes a foolish choice that Sophie is punished for, a series of events is set in motion that will change both their lives forever. The trauma of that event never leaves either woman.

 

Mouth is part of a team of scavengers, but she cannot help but remember where she came from. She grew up in a family of nomads, a tribe that did not give you your true name until you earned it. In one terrible night the entire tribe was wiped out, with only the young girl Mouth surviving–and no one left to give her a name. That trauma shapes the rest of Mouth’s life.

 

In The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders gives us a world of perpetual daylight on one side of the tidally locked planet January and a world of perpetual night on the other side of the planet. Clinging to life in the marginal zone between day and night are a few cities of humans. One city is ruled by a slavish conformity to the clock: sleep times and bath times and work times and all other times are controlled by the government. The other is ruled by families whose primary goal is the pursuit of pleasure. In between is a harsh wasteland with violent weather and more violent predators.

 

Switching back and forth between Sophie and Mouth, the story reveals how the lives of these women become intertwined. Looming throughout are the creatures of the night, called “crocodiles” by most, who revealed a very different side to Sophie in her hour of greatest need. As the needs of the women–and their very society–increase, their relationships with each other, with their cities, and with their world will be tested and shaped. It’s safe to say that each of them is completely remade by the end of the journey.

 

One question that arises throughout the novel (though usually unspoken) is, “What would you do for love?” Would you take the blame for something another person did? Would you betray others to retrieve something of value to your people? Throughout the book the choices the characters face constantly revolve around how they answer that question. Sometimes the things they do for love are stupid and self-destructive. Sometimes they are noble and bold. It’s naive to say that choices made for love are never wrong–love can mislead and confuse and one person’s love may be another person’s manipulation. But in the complex webs between the different characters in the book, the question of what one would do for love recurs again and again.

 

Another theme recurring through the book is the treatment of marginalized persons. Sophie is from a poor family. Mouth is from a different (and extinct) tribe of nomads. Humans, other than Sophie, reject the planet’s natives as being mere animals, not even considering that they may be intelligent and sophisticated. Yet as the book progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that the least regarded people are the ones who can lead the way to survival for the entire society. Anders writes these characters with the sensitivity and passion that she brings as a member of a marginalized group herself, and her experience informs her writing.

 

The City in the Middle of the Night is a powerful work. The world is complex and challenging. The characters are more so. Charlie Jane Anders has written a story that gives and gives until the final page and beyond. We highly recommend it.

 

The City in the Middle of the Night, Charlie Jane Anders

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