Friday 29 January 2016

The Girl at Midnight written by Melissa Grey

The Ala had gone to the library in search of hope. She walked through the stacks, one hand tucked into the pocket of her trench coat, the other trailing over the cracked spines of well-loved books and through the dust collected on those lesser-loved ones. The last patron had departed hours earlier, yet the Ala kept her sunglasses on and her scarf wrapped tightly around her head 
and neck. The dimness of the library made her black skin appear almost human dark, but the feathers she had in place of hair and the unrelieved blackness of her eyes, as wide and glossy as a raven’s, were pure Avicen. 

Cover by Jen Wang 
Published by Atom Books in April 2015 
368 pages in paperback –read on NetGalley 

Summary from author’s own website 
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she’s ever known. 
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she’s fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it’s time to act. 
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, but if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it’s how to hunt down what she wants … and how to take it. 
But some jobs aren’t as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire. 
This first book in a YA trilogy is rich with adventure and magic – topped off with a light dusting of romance. Without giving any spoilers, it’s also an inclusive book that will speak to a pleasing range of readers. The cover, though stylish and appealing, doesn’t give much away – and so I won’t either. 

A contemporary fantasy told in a strongly visual style, it would suit a graphic novel retelling well. Dramatic urban settings have mythological races warring amongst them. Thus you get wise-cracking humour and heirloom swords side-by-side. 

Echo – the human girl at the centre of the story is an engagingly sparky character. Readers of Cassandra Clare and Laini Taylor will enjoy the magical paraphernalia, mystical objects, feuds and battles. A lush mixture of both action and emotion runs throughout the book. Although it is fantasy, the consequences of violence on both the sufferer and the perpetrator are explored, not glossed over. That sounds a bit worthy – but there’s far too much humour and warmth for it to drag. 

I’d recommend it for confident readers: odd snippets of created or obscure vocabulary are sprinkled here and there. There is a prologue, and some shifting of the point of view, but it’s generally easy to read. The relationships are romantic rather than explicitly sexual and the violence is not too graphic. If it were a film, it would probably be a 12a. 

It has strong ending – it will be interesting to see what happens next in Book II.

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