The City in the Middle of the the Night by Charlie Jane Anders – An Arthur C. Clarke Award Book Review

The City in the Middle of the Night is interesting foray into what it means to be human and however much you might love a person you cannot always know their true intentions.

The novel is set in a far off planet which is tidally locked. Half the planet is in blistering sun and the other half in perpetual freezing dark. Survivors of a colony ship generations on have settled in the thin edge between the light and dark. Ziophant is an advanced and decadent city with a rigid class system whilst across a treacherous landscape sits Argente a less order city run by outcasts.

Thrown into this mix are the unique animals that inhabit the world, given Earth names they are most definitely fantastical. Of these the ‘crocodiles’ drive much of the story and relate to the city of the title.

This is a story about 4 leading ladies and their struggles to survive in this unforgiving landscape. Mouth is a cult refugee and hard as nails, Alyssa a competent smuggler, Bianca somewhat of an it girl longing for more and diminutive Sophie, the true heroine. She doubts her self worth and sees herself only through the prism of Bianca’s life. It is Sophie who develops most in the novel and is the most sympathetic character although Mouth also gets a satisfying amount of development.

The world Ander’s builds is fascinating. She lays out a believable world which is both horrific and engaging. In the aliens she creates a deep and insightful people totally alien to humans. the concept of a group mind, a kind of gestalt is not a new one to science fiction but was handled well. It was this that held the story together and gave it its narrative drive.

The novel was engaging but in many ways run of the mill and derivative, the ending in particular was lacklustre. I can understand that the main message of the story concerning the characters was over but some resolution to the driving plot would have been good.

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