Book Review – ‘The Midnight Lie’ by Marie Rutkoski

TITLE: The Midnight Lie
AUTHOR: Marie Rutkoski
GENRE: YA Fantasy, LGBT
WORD/PAGE COUNT: 400 pages (paperback)
PUBLICATION DETAILS: by Hachette Australia on March 10th, 2020
RRP: $19.99 AUD (paperback)

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Blurb from Goodreads:

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 colors. 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 Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses 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.

Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves.

Although Marie Rutkoski is a well-established author, I haven’t read any of her prior books and had no idea what I was in for when I started this. Now that I’ve finished The Midnight Lie, I’ve been converted to the status of new fan!

Her writing is beautifully succinct, expressing heartfelt emotions in a few short sentences. At times it possesses a lyrical storytelling quality, which is a lovely touch as the novel deals with myth and memory as important themes.

The blurb suggests a familiar dystopian society that has been relentlessly rehashed in YA, more often than not with shallow overly simplified social divisions and oft-nonsensical, cruelly contrived punishments for those in the lower classes. However I was really impressed at how the author put a lot of thought and care into her world-building to distinguish this book from the rest of the pack, making it feel fresh and original. Some of the elements will be recognized from other YA books, but I appreciated the way it was all woven into a brand new mythology that provided a sense of clarity and lived-in quality to this world.

it occurred to me that all the rules that mandated we live behind the wall had one purpose: to make the Half Kith forget how to wish for things. We had been taught not to want more than we had. I realized that wanting is a kind of power even if you don’t get what you want. Wanting illuminates everything you need, and how the world has failed you.

Our narrator Nirrim starts off a demure, docile little mouse who wishes for nothing and gives everything of herself that’s required. It makes for uncomfortable reading as there are two important relationships with a pseudo-maternal figure Raven and a love interest Aden, both of which are toxic and abusive. Each of these characters cleverly emotionally manipulates and gaslights Nirrim into giving in to their wishes, from carrying out back-breaking and even dangerous tasks to allow Raven to live in comfort or allowing romantic gestures and eventually engaging in a sexual relationship with Aden. The reader can clearly see how problematic these characters are in the way they behave towards Nirrim, chastising and lashing out at her if she doesn’t go along with them, then cosseting and flattering her to keep her in line.

Unfortunately Nirrim takes much, much longer to build up a sense of self-worth and inner strength to have any chance of standing up to them, which may frustrate or discomfit some readers. I didn’t enjoy these sections of the story at all as it made me feel distressed on Nirrim’s behalf, but it highlights her subtle character growth and how much she changes once Sid enters her life.

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Sid is easily the best character in the book, possessing a mischievous, flirtatious nature and always with a self-deprecating joke to lighten the mood. There’s an aura of mystery and allure to her, given how little we know about her background and the fact that she’s clearly not High Kith, yet has the wealth and mannerisms of the elite wealthy class, and isn’t afraid to parade her privilege around as needed. She and Nirrim strike sparks off each other the moment they meet, and the chemistry between this duo is what really engaged me in the story. I adored how easily Sid got under Nirrim’s skin and provoked her into conversation when ordinarily Nirrim would remain quiet and reserved, their banter was too adorable.

“I was wondering whether to wake you.”

“Did I talk in my sleep?”

“You did mention how attractive I am. How very handsome.”

“Liar.” I I felt myself flush. “I can’t even see you.”

“Ah, but you know. Intuitively.”

The Midnight Lie is very definitely a character-based novel. Anyone hoping for a revolution to catch fire in the middle of it will need to adjust their expectations because of how thoroughly Nirrim was indoctrinated since birth. Watching her start to question the manner of thinking that she had been brainwashed into and grow increasingly dissatisfied with her lot in life is a slow but compelling journey. When she reaches for the reins to take control over her life and that of the oppressed Half Kith by finding out the reason behind all the restrictions and dehumanizing tithes, a whole new layer of mystery and excitement is added as we accompany Nirrim and Sid on their investigation into what exactly is going on in the heart of Herrath.

Readers who invest in this will be rewarded with answers and action towards the end of the story, which ends with an absolutely killer hook that has me begging for more!

In Short

Pros: polished world-building, lyrical writing, slow-burn f/f romance, SID

Cons: (potential trigger) abusive relationships

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.

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Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘The Midnight Lie’ by Marie Rutkoski

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