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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.
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?
- Author: Marie Rutkoski
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: March 3, 2020
- Number of pages: 368
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 7, 2020
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