Enthralling, mysterious, and delightfully sapphic, Marie Rutkoski’s THE MIDNIGHT LIE is a captivating story of division, magic, and secrets untold.
The world in THE MIDNIGHT LIE revolves around a caste and class system that divides its people: At the top is the High Kith, for whom life revolves around decadent pleasure, luxuries and flamboyance. They know no hardships and are content in basking in the scent of perfumes and the taste of drugs that induce visions and experiences akin to magic. On the second tier are the Middlings, those who cater to the High Kith but aren’t without their own comforts. The Middlings have a geographical section of society dedicated to their own property and lifestyles, able to amass their wealth in the hopes of getting in with the High Kith crowd. And then there’s the Half Kith, of whom our protagonist, Nirrim, is one. The Half Kith form the lowest tier of these three classes, only above those called the Un-Kith – those without a home or any kind of standing in society, performing the most derogatory of tasks and fading into the grime and dark, unnoticed.
It is what it is is the mantra deeply interwoven into the society and mindsets of the people. There’s no room for question here, no particular need to wonder why and how things came to be. And when asked about the past, about how things were different before, there is no before, no way of knowing when the rules came in place, why the High Kith are who they are or why the Half Kith are made to live within the Ward, prohibited from entering the Middling or High Kith zones and separated by a wall that keeps them within their designated area. Nirrim has no inkling of what the sea looks like, what worlds lie beyond the wall, beyond the kingdom and the ever-present structure she’s been privy to all her life. She doesn’t wonder, doesn’t seek out answers about where she came from, going about her daily routine and chores without complaint.
However, there are hints of there being something more, something that doesn’t fit in with the perception of the world that Nirrim has formed, the perception that has been formed for her. There are rumours of gods having once roamed the land, images that flash before her eyes like forgotten memories, hints that these are actually remnants of the past, glimpses into a world that used to be – and to top it all off, a magnificent Elysium bird that catches everyone’s eye circles the city, its feathers glinting red.
They say this bird was blessed by a god, though we can’t remember which one. That the sight of its feathers will charm people.
This is the sort of thing people will kill for.
Nirrim’s voice is clear and distinct, the character development steady and gripping. Torn between wanting to stay with the status quo that she’s known her whole life and the doubts that keep creeping into her mind along with a need for adventure, an itch for more, Nirrim’s character is one you will hold your breath for, get into a murderous rage for, fervently turning the pages to see how her story will progress.
So you tell me what would make a good, quiet girl get herself in trouble, especially when she had so much to lose. Tell me.
The plot picks up when Nirrim meets the nefarious and adventurous Sid, who shrouds her identity in mystery, wears her passion for seducing women like a cape. Sid calls herself a traveller and has all the markings of a High Kith in her manner of being, ability to open doors and get her way, and she introduces Nirrim to a brand new world, a new way of thinking, of questioning all that she’s been told to believe in. Sid holds a lot of secrets and allows Nirrim her own, their stories interwoven with rays of possibilities, passions and hidden insecurities.
Rutkoski’s prose is gorgeous, layered with vivid imagery, beauty, and a careful choice of words, building up the world and characters with deliberate accuracy, shedding light on their vulnerabilities and personalities. With the Half Kith, we see a class of people desperate for their own identity, one that isn’t woven in with their duties to the higher classes, grasping onto every sliver of independence they can get. But always within the window offered to them. After all, it is what it is.
If you wondered why we had a festival for the god of the moon when we didn’t believe in the gods, we’d get a little tight around the eyes. We’d think, Will this be taken from us, too, our one holiday of the year?
As Nirrim begins to take steps towards understanding herself and her true place in this world, it is not only the system around her that seems to disintegrate, revealing deceit and unexpected horrors, but also her personal standing with her adoptive mother Raven – a hard taskmaster who goes from hot to cold in the blink of an eye, one second lifting a hand against her so-called surrogate daughter and stating her undying love the next. The merciless and cutthroat nature of her mother is clear from the very beginning, seen through her actions and lack of compassion towards her daughters. However, for a young girl like Nirrim, conditioned to accept what she’s given, not having experience true love ever before, it is hard to accept Raven’s actions for what they are – passive-aggressive and abusive. As Nirrim journeys through this world with Sid, she begins distinguishing reality from falsehoods, hard evidence helping the pieces fall together; and in her personal life, going from accepting Raven’s possessive and manipulative countenance to standing on her own two feet.
Marie Rutkoski unravels each part of Nirrim’s life and growth with sensitivity and tenderness, making my heart ache along each step of the way. Nirrim’s character is so well-developed that it’s hard to not root for her along her journey, especially with each piece of her life that’s shattered before she can put them back together the right way. The ending came as a huge surprise as well, going down a path that I did not expect, and it was refreshingly suspenseful, making me eager for the next book in this two-part series.
This is a stunning and impeccable novel, with Marie Rutkoski gaining an immediate fan here. I relished every word in THE MIDNIGHT LIE and highly recommend it for anyone looking for some adventure, fantasy, and multi-dimensional LGBTQ+ characters.