The Midnight Charter
by David Whitley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Midnight Charter / 978-1-596-43381-6
Possibly the most intriguing thing about "Midnight Charter" is the city setting itself. The city of Agora is a closed world, with tall walls preventing any entry or exit to the outside world. Within the city, there is no money - only an elaborate barter system where everything is available for trade, including the emotions of the poor and desperate. The system is, however, inherently unstable - how does one hoard wealth and power in a barter-based economy (particularly one that doesn't seem to have non-perishable food goods)? The paintings that one invests in today may be worthless tomorrow with the changing of the fashions; the perfumes that one bought in bulk yesterday may spoil in the heat and become rancid.
Inside this world, two orphans struggle to make their way - Mark, by working within the system in an attempt to survive and thrive, and Lily, by working subversively against the system with a revolutionary alms-house in which the poor and desperate may eat food for *free*, a radical and possibly illegal idea.
Whitley is an intelligent author and regards his readers as such. The world-building occurs at a pleasant pace, without obscuring the story or placing it on hold. Plot twists are revealed in a sensible manner, without overdone build-up or silly, contrived coincidences to propel the plot. I particularly enjoy Whitley's clever use of names ("Agora" for a city afraid of the outside world, "Laud" for a character whose living is made praising his clients, "Lily" and "Lilith" as two very different names for a complex character, and so forth) as well as his remarkable restraint and subtlety in never, ever pointing out how clever his names are.
The only thing that displeased me about "Midnight Charter" is the lack of resolution, or at least the manner of the ending chapters. While I may not be pleased to be left hanging for an obvious attempt at a sequel, I recognize that every series must have a first installment, and I don't hold that against the book. Rather, I was frustrated with the somewhat rushed feel of the final chapters, with an expositionary "please-explain-what-all-has-been-happening" extended scene lifted right out of "The Matrix Reloaded" a la 'The Architect' and a final page that almost screams for a movie tie-in, with the perfect zooming out to the credits as the heroes gaze about their surroundings in awe and bewilderment. I deeply dislike "Here is your choice" set-ups in books and movies where the protagonists simply accept the simplistic framing handed to them without at least considering alternatives. Having said all that, these complaints are extremely minor, and I will definitely be procuring the sequel just as soon as it gets written.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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