Book Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Midnight CityMidnight City
A Conquered Earth Novel

J. Barton Mitchell
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-250-00907-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

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.

And a little child shall lead them.

I love this book. What can I say to show you why? Perhaps “show” is the operative word because J. Barton Mitchell clearly has a talent for showing as well as telling. In short, he’s a very good storyteller and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this, his first novel (of many, I hope).

I very much appreciated the third person past tense points of view, not being a big fan of first person present tense. Most of the story is told from Holt’s perspective but occasionally seeing other points of view is a good way to add more depth to the story and, since the three main characters have such different issues, it helps the reader understand them better. I’m also eternally grateful that we don’t have to suffer through insta-love. Whether Holt and Mira will eventually become a romantic item is pretty much a given from the moment they meet but their progression towards mutual attraction is a natural one. Slowly growing feelings are what should be expected when these two start out in such adversarial circumstances.

I found the four main characters—Holt, Mira, Zoey and Max—to be completely engaging and believable, especially Holt. Here is a young man who has seen the worst life has to offer and, yes, he’s cynical, but  a piece of him still wants to believe that things can be better. Growing up fast was a necessity and he has become a teen who could very well be a survivor in such a nightmare future. Mira, on the other hand, is a girl we don’t see often enough in young adult fiction. She’s a bit more than cynical, too, but she’s brave, intelligent and very clever but also has a wistful side that’s very appealing.

Zoey is that child who often shows up in this type of book, the one who may just be the savior of the world, but Mr. Mitchell manages to keep her from becoming trite. Zoey is a likeable 8-year-old and, most of the time, behaves just as you would expect her to. I really enjoyed her attachment to Max and her mix of vulnerability and calm dependence on her companions, not to mention her touches of humor.  Oh, and by the way, I adore the four-footed Max, best companion to have on a perilous journey.

If anything made the story sometimes drag for me, it’s in the descriptions of the artifacts and how they work. I don’t quite get it any way so less attention on them would have been fine with me. It would be enough to know that certain items have special properties—and at some point, I’ll want to find out why they do—but I don’t really need to have such details as that one coin is turned heads out and another tails out.

Some reviewers are disconcerted by questions left with no clear answers but, to me, full knowledge of what’s going on works only if the book is a standalone. This is the first in a series (trilogy?) so why would the reader want to know everything by the end of the first book? Mitchell‘s worldbuilding is imaginative and detailed and, yet, there are still many things to find out in upcoming volumes, not only about this frightening future but about the people and the aliens that inhabit it. In some ways, Midnight City reminds me of a Stephen King novel in it’s detailed yet very broad storyline but the difference is that King tells it all in one book of 1,000+ pages.

Speaking of worldbuilding, this author has the magic touch. I easily saw through the eyes of this small band when they encountered such awful places as Clinton Station with its Fallout Swarms but Midnight City itself is the real gem and Mr. Mitchell‘s meticulous attention to detail made for a strong picture in my imagination. He has a background in comics and screenplays so his ability to create such strong visual images comes as no surprise.

I’m very glad I hadn’t yet compiled my list of best books read in 2012 before reading this because Midnight City will certainly be on it. Now I just have to cope with the endless wait till next fall for the second book in the series, The Severed Tower.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.


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