Marie Rutkoski’s stories are majestic and wondrous gifts. The first time I encountered one of her stories, I stayed up much later than I should have, deeply enchanted by her words and the powerful way she uses them. Every sentence is a delight and chosen with care so that every turn of phrase is important.
I am in awe by her writing and her latest book, The Midnight Lie, is as much a triumph as her last series, The Winner’s Trilogy, which may just be my favorite book series ever.
The Midnight Lie is loosely connected to The Winner’s Trilogy, though to tell you how would be to give much away. Let’s just say that it’s set in the same overall world. In this specific part of the world is an island called Ethin where a young woman named Nirrim lives sheltered in a wall with others in her lowly class. She is Half-Kith and lives in a Ward where there are no pleasures, only work and tithes and making sure you don’t attract the attention of the militia. When a colorful bird—so beyond her Kith and station–attracts the attention of the ward, Nirrim, who has only wanted to please her mistress and earn her love, wonders what it might be to want something of her own, something magical and hopeful.
The appearance of the bird sets off a series of events, including the introduction of a traveler, a mysterious young woman who dazzles Nirrim in a way that no one else has before. The two quickly form a partnership to uncover the mysteries of Ethin, with its large wall separating the Half-Kith from the middling and High-Kith and its supposed magic that only the High-Kith are allowed to indulge in. Soon, the usually smooth Sid is charmed by Nirrim just as Nirrim is deeply enchanted by her.
To say that their relationship is a bit of a slow-burn is an understatement, but it is a gorgeous smolder and one that feels deeply realistic. I felt that this was as much Sid’s story as it was Nirrim’s. I enjoyed how Sid, who appears selfish and arrogant in the beginning of the book as she struggles with the disconnect between herself and this new world she has wandered into, grows compassionate and understanding. In turn, Nirrim gains the confidence in herself and her abilities as Sid allows her the space to explore. The mystery of the island and magic unfolded alongside Nirrim and Sid’s relationship in tandem so that neither storyline overtook the other. I was equally interested in seeing where their relationship went as I was in finding out the secrets of the island.
While the classism begets homophobia in this book, it was refreshing that neither Sid nor Nirrim questioned their attraction once it grew. And I loved that the story didn’t linger in the Ward, where the misery and despair grew. Nirrim had the opportunity to move beyond that place and exist outside of it, realizing that what kept her there was only dragging her down.
The magic of the world was present but not overpowering. There was no intense exposition to contend with, just a gentle introduction to the way this world worked and the startling conditions that Nirrim and her fellow Ward Half-Kith dealt with daily. I enjoyed the pacing of the book in this way—it all unfolded like a fairy-tale.
As for the conclusion, the ending baffled me only because it was abrupt and made me desperate for more. I won’t give anything away but just know that this book has totally captivated me with its gorgeous prose and fascinating characters. I just finished and find myself wanting to return to the world already. Make sure to pick this up and set aside some time to fully enmesh yourself in Marie’s words.