I finished “The Girl at Midnight,” which is author Melissa Grey’s debut novel, and I’m really, really glad that my streak of choosing boring books seems to have ended. The story follows a human thief named Echo, who’s caught in a war between the Avicen, who are bird-people and who Echo considers to be her own family even if the feeling isn’t mutual, and the Drakharin, dragon-people. Due to a bunch of unfortunate circumstances, she ends up having to work alongside two Drakharin, Caius and Dorian, and her Avicen friends Ivy and Jasper.
I loved the plotline: the story, although telling a tale of a war, follows what is essentially a treasure-hunt. Echo and her gang are trying to find the firebird, something or someone who is supposedly a myth that could bring an end to the war between the Avicen and Drakharin, and this results in their having to find different artifacts left by Rose, a dead Avicen who was Caius’s lover, which will ultimately lead them to the firebird. If there was anything in the world that I could be, I would be a treasure hunter, and books about this kind of thing always are super appealing to me. There’s a lot of mystery, so much excitement when you find the next clue to the treasure, and it’s just a huge adrenaline rush. I’m in the process of playing Uncharted 4, too, so it tied in nicely to my other projects.
The second thing was that I really enjoyed the characters. They have a lot of chemistry between them, which leads to good relationships. Caius is the “Dragon Prince,” which Echo doesn’t realize, but his title and position are a massive basis for his personality. Since he’s something like two-hundred-and-fifty years old, he’s a very tired, very sad and beaten person– but not the kind that snivels and wallows around in their misery. He’s more of the kind of protagonist that’s very aloof, very curt and proper and has walls built so high that you can’t see the sky anymore. Echo, on the other hand, is a seventeen year old thief and sassy as hell. She’s reckless and enthusiastic and unforgiving, and it’s great because she reminds me so much of Widdershins, the protagonist from Ari Marmell’s series, Widdershins Adventures.
The secondary characters, Ivy, Dorian and Jasper, are less interesting. Well, Dorian and Jasper are less interesting. Dorian is Caius’s oldest friend and also secretly in love with him, affections which Caius is aware of but plays dumb to. He’s also the (ex) captain of the guard, and entirely made up of silvers and blues. He lost his eye to an Avicen soldier in his first battle and tends to despise all of them, but slowly warms up to his feathered companions… or more than warms up, in Jasper’s case. Jasper is an Avicen criminal, the kind that doesn’t have much loyalty towards his people. He’s a peacock, and he’s got the personality of one, and he’s extremely attracted to Dorian and makes it his life goal to pursue the guy. Actually, I’m pretty sure that the only reason that he joins their motley crew is so that he can get more time with Dorian.
I wasn’t as fond of Dorian and Jasper, just because they were the kind of characters who are completely enveloped in their sexuality… which I mean, it’s good to have representation and everything, but I’m really hoping that in future books there’s more to Dorian and Jasper other than the fact that they’re “gay lovers.” They both have the potential to have developed from really interesting origins, and to have facets of their personality that give us more insight into them, but it’s kind of like Melissa Grey wrote them off as the gay couple as a fanservice to her readers. I’d like to see more of them in the future, but I’d like to see more of their personalities. Like, for example, with Caius and Echo– they’re in love too. They also end up being a couple. But the thing is that they have so many other parts to them. Echo grew up with a drunk mother, she was taken in by the Ava when she was young, she lives alone in a library. By the end of the book we know that she’s someone who tends to act first and think later, that her closest friends are Ivy and Rowan, that she still feels horrible about things that she wished for in her childhood, you know? She has an entire history. Same with Caius. He’s the Dragon Prince and though his sister takes the throne from him and is a horrible psychopath, he still hopes deep in his heart that she’ll realize how deep in the dark she is and that they can reconcile one day, even after Tanith murders his Avicen girlfriend. We know that his most prized possessions are the two swords that Tanith gave him when they were young. We know that he’s out of touch with the human world, that he’s quiet and graceful, but he’s also quick to apologize (at least to his new friends) and, while he tries to keep the peace, can take care of himself in a fight. I don’t think we got nearly a quarter of the information we get about Caius and Echo from Dorian or Jasper… maybe that’s because they’re secondary characters, but I don’t really think so because Ivy is also a secondary character and she’s described so, so well.
Ivy is absolutely my favorite character in this book. She’s the sweet best friend of Echo, an Avicen dove who wants nothing more than to live her life peacefully. However, when she gets kidnapped by Drakharin who are on the hunt for Echo, she’s unwittingly exposed to a life of crime. Ivy is a gentle soul and an apprentice healer; she’s kind and forgiving and good to a fault. Dorian is the Drakharin that captures her, and in their first interaction, she’s imprisoned and terrified. Tanith has just killed the other Avicen who was kidnapped alongside her, and she knows that she’s also going to die. This is where we see Ivy’s fire, when she insults Dorian to his face despite being chained to the wall and covered in bruises and wounds. Dorian retaliates by slapping her, and it’s this act that defines their relationship throughout the book. Ivy has a clear distrust of Dorian from the moment they become allies, and Dorian regrets his actions every step of the way. He tries his hardest to make it up to Ivy by being as nice as he possibly can to her, and ensuring that they are never left alone so that she won’t be scared. Ivy, in the meantime, saves his life immediately after being released from his capture: he’s stabbed in the side during their escape, and it’s Ivy who nurses him back to health. Dorian is forever indebted to her, but repays the act at the end of the book, when he fights to save her life as Tanith’s firedrakes begin their assault upon the three.
I will admit that I was confused about the relationship between Jasper-Ivy-Dorian. It was pretty obvious that Jasper and Dorian were supposed to be together, because Jasper is incredibly flirtatious and Dorian eventually thaws and becomes receptive to his advances. But Dorian and Ivy have some kind of relationship that’s soft and slow and unnameable; maybe it’s a blood debt. And Ivy and Jasper seem friendly with each other, with Jasper even telling Dorian that he saw him, “save their little dove.” near the end of the book. I couldn’t tell if Dorian was going to end up with one of them (or maybe both of them) and I do have to admit that I was a little disappointed that he ended up with Jasper, because their relationship was so obvious from the very beginning. I think it would have been cool for Jasper to end up with a different character, maybe someone who’s just as vain as himself, and for Ivy and Dorian to work on their slowly building relationship. They’d have to overcome the fact that he hurt her while she was unarmed and unable to defend herself, and the fact that he slaughters people while she brings them back to life, and I feel like the dynamic would have been a lot more interesting. Jasper and Dorian’s dynamic seems to be that one of them is flamboyant and unapologetic, has no filter and oozes bedroom vibes like a strip club. The other is proper and dignified. I don’t know. I’ve seen that a lot before, and for some weird reason, it’s especially common with gay side characters in YA literature. There’s always the one that is out and proud, and the one that is not-so-open and moderate. I wish that they would have some kind of variation with gay characters in the genre. I dunno. I’m not well-versed in LGBTQ+ issues, so maybe my opinion isn’t valid.
One thing that I didn’t really like throughout the book was how much Jasper came on to Dorian. It would have been cute if Dorian was receptive from the beginning, but Jasper is sometimes uncomfortably flirtatious when Dorian is obviously not responding well to his advances. So I think he could have been written better.
Another thing that I was disappointed in was the fact that the “oh you were dead but just kidding you’ve been brought back to life” trope happens three too many times in this book. There’s one instance where Dorian nearly dies during the escape attempt, and then there’s the time that Echo stabs herself, hoping to sacrifice her human vessel to bring life to the firebird, and then when Jasper literally gets impaled through the chest by a sword. All of these are really fatal wounds, but they’re always miraculously rescued. It would have actually been a really interesting twist if Echo had died at the end, because that would have not only given life to a new character, the Firebird, but it would have shifted the dynamics of the team monumentally. Caius and Ivy would have been heartbroken, to say in the least. The stakes would have been raised by a ton. Also, Jasper’s death could have made a huge difference. Dorian would have suffered losing someone that he loved, which would have made an impact on his personality and finally we’d see some individuality in him. Echo has worked alongside Jasper for a long time, so she would have been traumatized to say in the least, especially considering how close his death is to Ruby’s. And then there’s just the fact that they’re all so close now that it would have had deeply affected every member of the team, since Jasper was the one to keep them in hiding, feed, shelter, and even clothe them when times got tough.
I’ll end this post on something that I liked about the book: I though that the chapters in which Echo is going through the trauma of murdering Ruby were beautifully written. There’s a part where she describes herself as “decaying from within,” and I love that Ms. Grey dedicated several chapters just to talk about how horrified Echo is with herself, and the internal conflict that she faces. There are so many books where the innocent protagonists murder someone, and it’s brushed over in a few pages. I always hated that, because it felt like the author was skimming. In this novel, you get a distinct feel for the pain that Echo’s in.
Okay, this review is long enough, haha. Overall, I’d recommend this book. It’s good. And I’ll probably follow the series because I like the characters a lot. I’m just hoping that Melissa Grey doesn’t pull a “pair the spares,” thing and pair Ivy and Rowan. That would make me really sad.