Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Midnight City Book Cover Midnight City
J. Barton Mitchell

Earth has been conquered by an alien race known as the Assembly. The human adult population is gone, having succumbed to the Tone – a powerful, telepathic super-signal broadcast across the planet that reduces them to a state of complete subservience. But the Tone has one critical flaw. It only affects the population once they reach their early twenties, which means that there is one group left to resist: children.

Holt Hawkins is a bounty hunter, and his current target is Mira Toombs, an infamous treasure seeker with a price on her head. It’s not long before Holt bags his prey, but their instant connection isn’t something he bargained for. Neither is the Assembly ship that crash lands near them shortly after. Venturing inside, Holt finds a young girl who remembers nothing except her name: Zoey.

As the three make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, they encounter young freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and the amazing powers that Zoey is beginning to exhibit. Powers that suggest she, as impossible as it seems, may just be the key to stopping the Assembly once and for all.

Review:

I expected this novel to be a little edgier than it turned out to be. In most dystopian novels, survivors are, by necessity, rough, tough and a little (or a lot) dangerous. When life as one knows it ends, there is no room for pleasantries, and the harsher sides of humanity are exposed. For this reason, I anticipated a much cruder backdrop for Midnight City.

In my mind, I guess I pictured a world similar to the one in the movie Book of Eli, in which all food and water is controlled by manipulative, sharp-eyed crooks and murder, theft, and sexual iniquity are prominent. I realize this is a young adult novel we’re talking about here, and that Midnight City is run by children and teenagers, but in real life kids are fully capable of committing horrific acts – if you don’t believe me, just turn on the news. While there is some degree of power abuse and foul deeds occurring in Midnight City, it certainly isn’t at the level I would have imagined in a world devoid of adults and law.

That being said, Midnight City is still a decent read, though it took me a while to get into it. With the exception of the first chapter, which opens with our dashing hero fighting off attacks first by hoodlums and then by the aliens that have taken over the planet, the first half of the book drags. Once the three main characters join up and make it to Midnight City, however, the pace picks up and the story is much more engaging.

The plot has a lot of potential that I hope will be realized as this series progresses. There are several plot elements that aren’t sufficiently explained in Midnight City, and I suspect this is because they will be further developed in later books. For example, I’d love to learn more about the alien Assembly and what they’re doing on Earth. I’d also like to get more information on the frequently mentioned but never explored Strange Lands, as well as the magical artifacts that come from them. The existence of magic doesn’t really seem to fit with the rest of the novel, but with additional information I think I could come to terms with it.

As far as characters go, I was quite happy with Holt Hawkins as a hero. He’s kind yet cunning and is all sorts of awesome when it comes to a fight. His relationship with Mira is a little too cliché for my taste, but it could be worse. Zoey was probably my favorite character – there’s much more to this little girl than meets the eye. She possesses special abilities that lead Holt and Mira to suspect that she may be their best weapon against the Assembly, but at the same time she’s still a child – sweet, vulnerable, and refreshingly naïve, able to find joy in something as small as jellybeans or playing fetch with Holt’s dog.

So, in the end, would I recommend this book? The answer is: it depends. I’m sure there are readers out there who will really enjoy Midnight City, especially those who like apocalyptic stories but prefer them on the milder side, without too much sex, violence, ruthlessness, etc. Other readers, those who like a little more darkness and realism in their stories, may want to pass over this book for something grittier. I leave it to you to decide in which of those categories you fall.

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