For readers of Cassandra Clare's City of Bones and Leigh Bardugo's Shadow and Bone, The Girl at Midnight is the story of a modern girl caught in an ancient war.
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
“Every good fairy tale has a kernel of truth to it.”
I must confess to having some difficulty pinning down my perspective on this young adult title. It is not a bad book; however, I do feel it is lacking somewhat in originality. I entirely agree with the reviews that compare it to Daughter of Smoke and Bone and the Mortal Instruments series, with even a few echoes of The Hunger Games thrown in. There are many parallels here, particularly to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and having read that series previously, I found the numerous similarities put a bit of a damper on my enjoyment of this story. To be clear, while obviously heavily influenced, this is not a complete carbon copy. There are a few unique twists in this tale and the writing itself is solid, although, in comparison, it lacks some of the lyrical quality and sophistication found in Laini Taylor's work.
This book is slightly more superficial and definitely leans more toward the 'young' side of young adult, which in itself is not a bad thing. The romance in particular is fairly predictable, with too much teenage 'hormonal swooning' for my taste, and there are some weaknesses in the plot. Specifically, it lacks depth overall, and certain events happen 'just because' without sufficient background or explanation. These events seem to be shallow plot devices, necessary to advance the plot in the desired manner, but are not well integrated or supported and result in a rather clunky feel to the narrative at times.
The characters themselves are likeable enough, but I was not quite as emotionally engaged as I could have been. I would have especially liked greater exploration of the war at the center of the conflict between the Avicen and the Drakharin. As the primary motivating factor for so many actions and events in this tale, I believe a deeper understanding of this age-old clash would have lent resonance and allowed me to feel more invested in the characters and their struggles.
"War is like a drug...You spend so long chasing victory that you become blind to the fact that you'll never find it."
All that being said, there is potential here. I think actual teens and young adults who are fans of this genre would greatly enjoy this book, more so than I did as an adult, and some of the issues which concerned me may not be nearly as bothersome to younger readers. There is much here to appeal to such readers - plenty of action, snarky dialogue, magic, romance, even tantalizing food descriptions to awaken their sweet tooth. And, honestly, not all YA titles need to (nor should) captivate an adult audience. The demographic is classified as it is for a reason, and books that cater to the YOUNG in Young Adult are every bit as worthy as those that deal with subject matter more suited to the upper limit of that age category.
Ultimately, I did enjoy this novel enough to continue on with this series and see how Grey progresses the story, but I would hope that she also progresses as an author by developing more of her own unique voice rather than drawing quite so much inspiration from other works. Although, such influences, as well as the many references to books and book collecting throughout The Girl at Midnight, speak to her deep and genuine love of books...and that is something all fellow bibliophiles can certainly relate to.
"...I like to be around all these books. They're very good at making you forget your troubles. It's like having a million friends, wrapped in paper and scrawled in ink."