I had really high hopes for The Girl at Midnight, and I think that was my undoing. If I hadn’t expected this to be so great, I don’t think I would have been as disappointed. Reading this book was like expecting to go to a pool party at one of those amazing resort pools with waterslides and a lagoon, only to show up and find a plastic kiddie pool instead. Everything about the book just feels shallow compared to the depths I thought I’d be getting. The romances are rushed, the potentially interesting cultures are never really delved into, and the events of the story happen too easily, with very little effort required of the characters.
The plot centers around two magical races – the bird-like Avicen and the dragon-like Drakharin – that have been at war with each other for centuries. The principle characters are Echo, a human pickpocket who’s befriended the Avicen, and Caius, a Drakharin prince. Both Echo and Caius are on a mission to locate a magical item that, according to legend, will grant its possessor the ability to end the war once and for all: the mythical Firebird.
I was surprised by how quickly this book passed. The first half was over before I knew it, without anything major really happening, and I had no idea how an entire plot could be developed in the remaining chapters. The answer was, by making the plot just barely scratch the surface. Governments are overthrown with no effort. “Good guys” become prisoners just to be released with no hassle hours later. Even the quest for the firebird is simple and easy. All Caius and Echo have to do is receive a clue, follow the clue to a specific location, get another clue, and repeat. No real challenges, no clever puzzles, just following directions and occasionally running from a horde of soldiers.
The book never dives deep enough into the cultures of the Avicen and Drakharin, either. I wanted to learn more about the magical races with their feathers and scales and portals and magic. I wanted to know their history, their hierarchy, and their customs. I didn’t see nearly enough of this, but I suppose there’s room for all of that information in the sequel.
Another bummer was that Echo didn’t live up to my expectations. When I see the word “pickpocket,” my immediate thoughts are of brilliant scoundrels like Locke in Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora or Gen in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Queen’s Thief series. I picture high-stakes schemes and clever ruses and genius heists. That’s what I envisioned The Girl at Midnight would be like, but with the added bonuses of magic (hooray!) and forbidden love (hooray again!).
That’s not what I got. Echo falls so far short of the Locke/Gen mark that I can’t believe the blurb describes her as “clever” and “daring.” For a pickpocket, Echo doesn’t steal much in the book, and when she does she’s frequently discovered. She’s plucky, I suppose, and she can be funny every now and then, but she just didn’t blow me away as I’d hoped.
Echo may not have enchanted me, but I did enjoy the other characters in this book. Echo’s best friend Ivy is quiet and shy but also brave and strong and kind. Caius is a world-weary, beautiful soul with a compelling backstory. Dorian, Caius’ devoted companion and Captain of the Guard, captured my heart for a myriad of reasons and is unequivocally the highlight of the book.
The Girl at Midnight isn’t bad, I just wanted more from it. I think I’ve been spoiled by all the other great novels that have come before this one. The magical-enemies-falling-in-love plot is done better by Laini Taylor in her Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and the clever-charming-thief plot is done better by Megan Whalen Turner. If you haven’t read any of those books, though, and if this is your first foray into fantasy or forbidden romance, then I suspect you’ll enjoy The Girl at Midnight a lot more than I did.