By Melissa Grey
Available now from Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)
I was drawn in by the name and cover of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT. Both are just this side of generic, but with a spark of personality. That's a pretty good summation of the book too. If you're looking for a plot with lots of twists and turns (or even just a small surprise), this is not the book for you.
Debut author Melissa Grey writes with a lot of charm, which will serve her well as she grows further into her voice and starts to take her plot and characters in their own direction. THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT is a perfectly likeable book. It's an easy read that will probably take most readers a single afternoon. There's some action, some magic, some romance. It's got all the ingredients for a good time even if it doesn't break the mold. Homemade chocolate chip cookies might be the best, but there's a place for Chips Ahoy! too.
Echo is a seventeen-year-old thief who lives in magic-hidden cove of a public library with the Ala, both of them working for the Avicen, a race of bird-like people. They're at war with the Drakharin, a race of dragon-like people. Then Echo comes across the means to find the Firebird, a prophesied being that can end the war. Echo shares narrating duties with Caius, the Dragon Prince; Dorian, his captain of the guard; and Ivy, her friend. I wish the narration had been more focused. It seems strange for some of the characters to take over for one or two chapters before fading back into the background. It also might've given the book a bit more surprise if we were getting detailed points of view from both sides of the conflict.
I think Echo was the weakest point of the main characters. She's got a dark past, a quirk of collecting words, and is an impossibly good thief. She's mostly motivated by a desire to belong with the Avicen, to prove her place despite being a human. But she just didn't have as much personality as the others. She's a quirky YA fantasy heroine. Caius is a leader, seeking what is best for his people even at cost to himself. (And we'll just go with that whole wants peace thing and ignore that he tortures and kills Avicen in his first appearance.) Dorian makes a moral mistake at the beginning of the book that haunts him, as do his unrequited feelings for Caius. Ivy pays the price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but stays firm to her beliefs. Jasper, who shows up late in the story, is mostly after something pretty and shiny.
I feel like the world of THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT needed a lot more development. Why are the Avicen and Drakharin at war? What rift is so great that requires centuries of fighting and can only be ended through magical intervention? Not even Caius, leader of one of the armies, knows. (I did like Echo pointing out that peace talks hadn't even been attempted.) I felt like Grey got away with the reveal of the firebird because it was obvious what was coming more than it actually making any sense. It also adds a somewhat creepy dimension to the main romance. (Speaking of the romance, Echo's boyfriend basically disappears from her thoughts halfway through, which I guess counts as a breakup.)
THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT is the start of a trilogy. I honestly think it stood fine as a story, and I doubt I'll read the sequels. The war and romance were adequately resolved for me. I had fun reading THE GIRL AT MIDNIGHT, but it just never differentiated itself from the pack.