Marie Rutkoski’s The Winner’s Curse trilogy is one of my favorite fantasy series out there, so when I heard that she had written a new book, I obviously had to read it 🙂 Many thanks to altheareads for putting it on my radar, since I somehow managed to complete miss hearing about this!
Overall, this book managed to live up to my exorbitant expectations quite well. Though I don’t love this as much as The Winner’s Curse series (at least, not yet), it had the same beautiful writing, compelling plot, and wonderful characters! I’d definitely recommend this to fellow fantasy fans, especially those who are looking for a good LGBTQ+ romance.
Anyway, let’s get into more details! The first half of the review will be spoiler-free, so feel free to read on if you haven’t read the book. I do want to talk about a few spoilery aspects, though – I have a lot of thoughts that I need to share with someone! – so those’ll be in the second half of the review. Don’t worry, I’ll warn you ahead of time 😉 But if you’ve also read this, feel free to check out the whole review and tell me if you have similar (or totally different) feelings!
SOME BASIC INFO:
Title: The Midnight Lie
Author: Marie Rutkoski
Genre: YA fantasy
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
Date Read: May 9, 2020
Rating: 4/5 Stars
Where Nirrim lives, crime abounds, a harsh tribunal rules, and society’s pleasures are reserved for the High Kith. Life in the Ward is grim and punishing. People of her low status are forbidden from sampling sweets or wearing colors. You either follow the rules, or pay a tithe and suffer the consequences.
Nirrim keeps her head down and a dangerous secret close to her chest.
But then she encounters Sid, a rakish traveler from far away who whispers rumors that the High Caste possesses magic. Sid tempts Nirrim to seek that magic for herself. But to do that, Nirrim must surrender her old life. She must place her trust in this sly stranger who asks, above all, not to be trusted.
Set in the world of the New York Times–bestselling Winner’s Trilogy, beloved author Marie Rutkoski returns with an epic LGBTQ romantic fantasy about learning to free ourselves from the lies others tell us—and the lies we tell ourselves.
Like I said, I really liked this book! It is a very promising and beautifully written start to a new fantasy series with a very intriguing world, a fair amount of political history, and great character relationships. It definitely stands on its own feet, but it also has a bunch of connections to The Winner’s Curse trilogy that fans like me will probably love piecing together 🙂 I don’t think you need to read The Winner’s Curse series before reading this, but I do recommend that you do! Otherwise, you’ll miss out on a lot of interesting backstory, and from the way this book ended, I think aspects of Marie Rutkoski’s previous series might become even more important in book two. And, granted – I just want people to read The Winner’s Curse because I love it so much 😉
But back to this book! Like always, I’ve tried to sort my thoughts into the categories “writing”, “characters”, and “plot” in an attempt to make them appear somewhat organized… You can be the judge of whether I succeeded or not 😁
One of the many things I love about Marie Rutkoski’s books is the writing style! It’s just so beautiful and lyrical, and all the descriptions make the setting so vivid and real! I’m definitely the type of reader who loves a lot of sensory details, and Marie Rutkoski provides exactly what I want. That being said, if you’re more of a “I need action immediately and not all the stuff surrounding it” type of person, this book might not be the right fit for you. There is also action, but the book starts off very slowly and leaves the reader to gradually figure out the world and piece together what is going on. For me, that was perfect, but I also know that’s not everybody’s cup of tea 😉
I loved the characters! The book is told from the first person POV of Nirrim, who is Half Kith (Kiths are social groups similar to castes). She has lived in the Ward, a certain district of the city to which people of her Kith are restricted, all her life. One day, however, Nirrim is arrested for catching the pet bird of a High Kith, and in jail, she meets someone who makes her question everything she knows about her life, her Kith, and her city’s history. I loved getting to discover more and more clues to this history through Nirrim’s eyes, and also thought her reactions to her situation were very realistic.
Also, I really enjoyed the complexity of Nirrim’s relationships. There is Raven, her foster mother, whom Nirrim loves although other people tell her Raven is abusive and only using her because she needs a good forger to help make fake passports that can smuggle Half Kiths out of the Ward. There are Nirrim’s foster sisters, whom she clearly loves but also doesn’t know that much about. There’s Aden, who loves Nirrim and whom Nirrim doesn’t have the guts to tell that she doesn’t feel the same way.
And then there’s Sid, quite possibly my favorite character in the book. She’s spunky, independent, stylish, and smart, and I love how she gets Nirrim to question what she thought she knew to be true. And underneath Sid’s bravado, there’s also a lot of insecurity, which made her feel even more real. I adored her – so obviously there’ll also be a lot of Sid related stuff in the spoilery section 😉 But if you haven’t read The Midnight Lie, all you really need to know is that Sid is a traveler who has never been to this city before, that she and Nirrim met in jail, and that she’s cool!
This is very much a character driven book, and the first half especially is more focused on these characters’ relationships with one another and what life in the Ward looks like. However, I found all this really intriguing because I, too, was trying to figure out what was going on here and what was up with this society’s history. There was mystery and politics, a combination I always love.
Then, once Nirrim is arrested, things really take off. We get her trying to sneak out of the ward, to reunite with Sid, and to figure out more about her society’s history. We get a romance that feels real, complicated, and wonderful, and that slowly builds over time. We get more and more clues to what is really going on.
And I think that’s pretty much all I can say without giving too much away. If this book sounds like something that might interest you, I recommend you give it a try! And for those of you who have read it – let’s get into spoilers!
**Some SPOILERY Thoughts**
(Don’t read this if you haven’t read the book and don’t want to be spoiled! Also includes minor spoilers for the Winner’s Curse trilogy)
Here are a few things I NEED to talk about – sorry about all the jumbledness, this is just how my brain works 😉
First, can we talk about all The Winner’s Curse stuff in here? I actually didn’t know this was set in the same world when I started reading, but already started to get suspicious when the name Herrath was mentioned. That just sounded too similar to Herran to be a coincidence. And then we got references to the Valorian Empire that had crumbled, so at first I thought: Hmm, maybe this is Herran sometime in the future? Maybe it became an island when the coastline eroded? And that would also have explained the name change… But then we got to meet Sid, and as soon as I read her description, she reminded me eerily of Kestrel. And when she was able to get out of jail so easily, when she knew a lot about strategy games, and when she said that she had a Valorian dagger and was half Valorian and half Herrani, I was 99.99% sure she was Kestrel and Arin’s daughter. And I was right! I mean, it was spelled out pretty plainly, so I probably shouldn’t be too proud of realizing that. But I think it was a really cool move on Marie Rutkoski’s part to introduce her as a character in her own right first. Also, can we just talk about how cool it is that Roshar was the one who went to Herrath to get her? I love Roshar!
Speaking of Arin, Kestrel and Sid, though, I’m not really sure how I feel about their reaction to Sid being a lesbian. I mean, Kestrel’s own father wanted to marry her off for political reasons, so would she really want to force her daughter to marry someone just to uphold the royal family line? And would Arin really stand by and do nothing? Surely what’s important to them is their country and they could name some other heir or have Sid adopt one if she became queen and didn’t have any children… That part just felt a little out of character to me. Especially after how supportive they are of Roshar. Although maybe we’ll learn a bit more to put that into perspective in the next book, since Sid is returning home. And Kestrel had better not die, because I LOVE Kestrel!
Also, I was a little unconvinced as to how Sid is able to move around to so freely – if nobody in Herrath has ever even heard of Herran, why would they take her seriously? How would she even have been able to send a message home from the prison? Why does she have so much financial power in this society? Don’t they have some other currency system?
I did think the way Sid was introduced was a really cool move, though! I had heard that there was a female-female romance in this, so at first when Nirrim met Sid, a guy, I thought I must have misunderstood something. Then, suddenly, everything was cleared up when Nirrim actually saw Sid. I think it’s so cool how the way this was written shoved gender stereotypes at the reader and forced you to question them! And I absolutely adored Sid and Nirrim’s relationship and all the tension they had before they finally got together. It was so cute how jealous Sid was of Aden, and how she was so insecure when Nirrim was late coming to that house with the piano. It was wonderful how Sid opened Nirrim’s eyes to how it might be okay to love a woman. I loved the two of them together, and that ending made my heart break a little…
Enough about Sid and Nirrim for now, let’s talk about Raven. Boy, I hated her! It was so heartbreaking to see how cruel she was to Nirrim, especially when Nirrim loved her so much. I thought that relationship was portrayed very realistically, even if it was sad to read about. Especially that part about Morah and her baby… And I felt so terrible for Nirrim when she discovered that Raven had been charging exorbitant sums for the passports she thought they’d made to help people…
I also really didn’t like Aden. I know he meant well and that later, his feelings were hurt, but could he maybe have seen past that and thought about Nirrim’s feelings for a moment? I thought Marie Rutkoski did such a good job of showing how Nirrim felt pressured by him and didn’t have the courage to tell him she didn’t like him, even if it meant taking things as far as sex. That, I think, is something that happens a lot more often that we talk about, and I’m glad it’s being portrayed in literature.
One thing I’m not sure how I feel about is the whole “the gods are real and the Half Kiths have superpowers” thing. I actually really love religion in fantasy books, but what I like most is when you’re never sure whether there are really gods out there or whether this is just something people came up with to explain how their world works. And The Winner’s Curse had that. Arin believed the gods existed, Kestrel didn’t. It was nice that there was something to philosophize about. But now that we know that they are actually real, I don’t feel as if the religion is half as interesting anymore. It’s hard to explain – does anyone else get what I mean?
Also, did anyone get any major flashbacks to the mosaic in The Winner’s Kiss when the agora before the god killing was described? I wonder if there’s a connection…
I thought the whole idea of the tithe was gruesomely intriguing, though. I loved the idea of the Half Kith blood having magical properties. I suspected that quite early on and was so pleased when I was right! I do hope we’ll get a bit more backstory there, other than “they’re descended from gods”.
And, obviously, the ending? Why did you do that, Nirrim? I mean, I guess I see why, but now she’s this utterly emotionless super powerful person. Sid had better hurry up and help her find her way back to herself again pretty soon… Can you imagine how annoying it would be to be stuck in this Nirrim’s head for the sequel? That epilogue already made me dislike her…. Although maybe we can also get a sequel from Sid’s perspective. I’d be down for that 🙂
I think I’ll leave it at that – this review is already way too long as it is… If you stuck around, thanks for enduring all my rambling! Let me know what you thought of The Midnight Lie if you’ve read it! And if you haven’t, I’d recommend you check it and the Winner’s Curse series out!