The Midnight Lie

Book review by
Carrie R. Wheadon, Common Sense Media
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Same-sex love story drives compelling Winner's spin-off.

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age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows danger a society faces when it doesn't know its own history and its identity is taken away. Also observes a strict class system, which still exists in a looser form in some countries.

Positive Messages

It's important for a country to know its history. The caste system is cruel and unfair. Truth has great power, yet we resort to lying.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Nirrim begins story wanting to stay safe in the Ward behind the wall and be helpful, dutiful to her manipulative and moody caretaker, Raven. She slowly realizes she deserves more for herself, that her world is even more unfair than she suspected. She risks her life to seek happiness, even if it's only temporary, and to uncover her country's cruel secrets. She eventually realizes how badly she'd been treated, sticks up for herself. This LGBTQ love story has lesbian characters at its center, not as secondary characters. Nirrim's love interest, Sid, is rakish, handsome, full of self-confidence; is accepted by most of society as she is.


A man is kicked and falls to his death from high up. Emotional abuse, manipulation by caretaker who eventually burns main character's face in anger. Imprisonment includes daily tithes of blood, threats of rape. Story of a girl dying of fever in an orphanage. Talk of tithes from many in the lower class, mostly of blood, sometimes of rape, sometimes fingers and limbs, sometimes children are snatched and never return. A woman had an eye taken.


LGBTQ characters have sex, with undressing, kissing, lots of longing described. Much talk of one character's conquests, including affairs. Man and woman have sex, with little described.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Those in high society take mood-altering drugs and elixirs at parties and gatherings. People seem drunk or high at all of these parties, but we're not supposed to view the behavior or these people favorably.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Midnight Lie is an LGBTQ fantasy-romance set in the world of author Marie Rutkoski's bestselling Winner's Trilogy, but on a forgotten island where there are strict rules about class and no one knows why they exist. The main character, Nirrim, is Half-Kith, or low class, and lives in the Ward behind a wall with her kind. She kicks a guard off the side of a building, causing his death. She goes to prison and gives daily tithes of blood (common for the lower classes -- some have lost limbs or eyes or have been raped). She also experiences emotional abuse and manipulation by a caretaker who eventually burns her face in anger. Other mature content includes sexual relationships, straight and same-sex, with kissing, undressing, and lots of longing described. Nirrim's love interest is also much talked about in high society for her conquests. Parties and get-togethers in high society always include mood-altering drugs, but this experience isn't looked upon favorably. Readers will be impressed by Nirrim's strength that slowly builds throughout The Midnight Lie. At first she seeks the safety and familiarity of the Ward's wall, and then she opens her eyes to a wider world and is suddenly determined to know her country's cruel secrets at any cost to herself.

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Teen, 13 years old Written byMarAnne July 15, 2020

What's the story?

In THE MIDNIGHT LIE, Nirrim lives behind the wall of her Half-Kith (lower class) Ward baking bread and forging passports for her caretaker, who runs a brisk business helping others escape the misery of the Ward. When an Elysium bird is seen swooping over the neighborhood, all the Half-Kith want to claim it. It's said to have wonderful magic. Nirrim is the one to spot it one night and climbs up a building to get it. A soldier tries to pull her down and she kicks him until he falls to his death. Suddenly, Nirrim knows what a danger it is to possess the bird and decides to hand it in. She's arrested and sent to prison anyway, and is held in a cell across from a mysterious and flirty stranger named Sid. Sid claims to be a traveler who hobnobs with the High Kith (upper class). That claim is proven when they both get released from prison early after Sid calls in a favor. When they part at the prison entrance, Nirrim won't let that be goodbye. She does something she's never done with her skills: forges a passport for herself and ventures beyond the wall into an unknown world of magic, beautiful clothes, and hallucinogenic parties, and finds that many secrets are being kept from everyone on both sides of the wall.

Is it any good?

A mysterious and cruel class-divided society makes this Winner's trilogy spin-off compelling, while the romance between the two female main characters adds intrigue and heart. Sometimes the romance and the mystery don't mesh as well together -- especially near a somewhat rushed end -- but both pieces make the whole well worth reading. Much credit goes to author Marie Rutkoski's lyrical writing. Passages where Nirrim relays her earliest memories at the orphanage are both heartbreaking and beautiful. Rutkoski's reflections on what it would be like to have such a perfect memory when there's so much loss in life add another poignant layer to the story.

It's clear that Nirrim, of all her class, should be the one to escape the Ward first. But as The Midnight Lie marches rather quickly to the end, it's hard to tell what Nirrim's goal in her escape really is. She never says that she wants to be the savior of her people, just that she needs to know what happened to them. The discovery of her own magic also seems to come rather late in the story, and the shocking twist is so late that it's in the epilogue. But all together these elements add more layers of intrigue that beg for a sequel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the lesbian main characters in The Midnight Lie. How many fantasy books have you read with LGBTQ characters in the main roles? How many as secondary characters? Why do you think that is?

  • There are deeper political themes to explore here. Do you find it easier to read about class differences in a fantasy? What nonfiction have you read that talks of castes and lost histories? How does fantasy tackle the topics differently?

  • Do you want to read more about Nirrim and Sid? What do you think comes next for them?

Book details

For kids who love fantasy and LGBTQ stories

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