Review: The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie #1) by Marie Rutkoski


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.

RATING: ☆★☆★

It is what it is.” With such a simple yet foreboding line, Rutkoski paints a vivid portrait of an intriguing, deadly world in the first installment of The Midnight Lie series. A world that lays itself open for only one faction: the High Kith. The High Kith wear their wealth as comfortably as the expensive leather that is forbidden in the Ward. They drip with perfume and are corrupt from soft living, and the best our protagonist, Nirrim, can hope for is a life spent creeping in their generous shadows.

Nirrim worked to fit herself inside the narrow confines of this life, the words “it is what it is” like a mantra, like fingers reaching into her mouth, keeping her from crying out. But there are gaps between the bars: whispers of long-forgotten gods, scarlet where the white paint on the walls of the Ward had chipped, an Elysium bird sailing high over the Ward like an omen. And a girl. A mysterious sea-faring schemer named Sid whose eyes fastened on Nirrim across a low-lit prison cell as though she meant to strip a secret from her soul, and whispered of magic left like a door, ajar onto a new and undiscovered world. Sid gives Nirrim a single threshold on which to balance, a narrow precipice of hope, refulgent and desperate. But can Nirrim climb through the mirror and slide into the skin of the girl she imagines herself to be, brave and unafraid of falling?

While on the surface this seems like a story we’ve seen before, Rutkoski infuses new life into it through starkly beautiful language, distinct characters, and remarkable world-building elements that mesh like clockwork with themes of deception, privilege, greed, and an acute exploration of the truths we conceal from ourselves until one day we surface and find them waiting.

The Midnight Lie unfolds unhurriedly with harrowing beauty, precision, and confidence, but there’s a rhythm to it, relentless and breathtaking. Reading this book, you get the sense that the author is careful to unspool the secrets of her world with as much suspense and mystique as she can. It is clear that Rutkoski is playing the long game here, and she’s playing it rather superbly. Forging on, you come across a plot involves far more than a quick hit, and one of the most tantalizing hints of things to come is the frequent mention of the existence of magic, both in Nirrim’s past as well as her terrifying present. The ending, too, is a virtuoso move that shows just how much thought was poured into the novel, and my mind could not settle on a proper question to ask out of the hundred that immediately bubbled up. Rutkoski has cultivated fertile ground for the next books in her promising series to grow, and I will be counting the days until the sequel.

What made this story soar highest for me, however, is the amount of care and attention infused into the characters. Nirrim is the focus of the novel, and the words that fall from her were often so vulnerable they pulled in my chest.

Unlike Sid who seems to walk through life with a giant’s insouciance with the world, hanging back, watching from under the rims of her eyelids, Nirrim’s desires and motivations creep into the prose like whispered secrets, held back by the careful thinking of a mind accustomed to good behavior. Because for Nirrim that’s what wants and desires are: secrets. She toys with them the way a child hovers their palm over a candle flame, daring to venture just close enough to feel the stabbing licks of pain. They are relics of a life she’s never lived, buried and forgotten, the possibilities tucked away for some future time when Nirrim would be strong enough to look directly at it. But once they are unearthed, there is simply no containing them.

Nirrim also begins to see a side of her surrogate mother that leaves her cold—a cruel and merciless side that, for discerning readers, was present long before Nirrim faces it. Years of emotional manipulation and abuse have distorted Nirrim’s perception, and because her (magical) inability to tell illusion from truth has already taught her not to trust herself, Nirrim looked at her “mother’s” possessive, conditional desire to own, as far from warmth as a distant planet, and mistook it for love. It’s not until Nirrim meets Sid that shards of her latent memories force themselves out like splinters, that Nirrim’s world becomes translucent as a window. The acclimation that comes with time, like a body adjusting to a too-hot bath, is chillingly observed throughout the novel, and it’s one of the many jagged, tragic details that make this book so hard-hitting. I really enjoyed seeing Nirrim’s fear, like a fever, break, and I can’t wait to discover where her journey takes her.

Ultimately this was a solid, enjoyable book, and a great start to a promising new series. Highly recommended!

6 thoughts on “Review: The Midnight Lie (The Midnight Lie #1) by Marie Rutkoski

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