I first experienced this book in audio while driving. The day after I finished the audiobook, I borrowed it from the library to read it again. The first time I savored it. The second time I analyzed the heart of it and was amazed.
For starters, the opening chapter is gripping--and quite mysterious. I spent the majority of the book wondering if what happened in the first chapter was real or if it was just symbolic--but the message of the book didn't change either way.
Mark rises from the brink of death to discover that his father sold him to a doctor. In the city of Agora where trade is the currency of the realm, this is standard--but that doesn't mean he likes it.
In his new home he makes friends with another child-laborer named Lily, and together they serve the doctor, and his master, Count Stelly, the most notable astrologer in Agora. Soon, however, Mark loses touch with his friends and becomes entwined in a political plot to bolster the Count's reputation--and destroy the reputation of another. Mark must figure out a way to extricate himself before his role in the plot besmirches his name forever and he becomes "damaged goods."
Meanwhile, Lily opens an alms-house in an act of compassion and empathy that flies in the face of the Agora ideals of self-made wealth and worth. Separately, Mark and Lily realize that the political system is flawed, and that, together, they were meant to make it right.
As I gushed earlier, the opening chapter was tense and mysterious. From there, the plot peters out for a little while as we explore the characters of Lily and Mark, what they want from life and what makes them tick. Once Lily and Mark are separated, however, the real plot--begins.
I was close, about fifteen percent of the way through the audiobook, to turning it off because there had not yet been an inciting incident, but now I am so glad that I held on a short while more.
The book is rich in imagery and symbolism. For example, the city of Agora is divided into districts based upon the astrological signs, so there is the Piscean District, Librans, Leos, etc. There is a shop owner who deals in human emotion (disgust, obsession, jealousy), which she bottles and trades to her customers. And the imagery and plot together weave a beautiful tale of love, redemption, and compassion.
The prose is concise and vivid; author David Whitley does not waste words. The further in you go, the more you appreciate the complexity of the plot and the more you yearn to solve the mysteries. Whitley imbues each character with dramatic tension that will have you pining or rejoicing with them, or else cursing their deviousness.
This book was apparently marketed as middle-grade fiction, but when you hold it next to books like The Lightning Thief--ack--they can't compare. Adults and teens alike will find something to love in The Midnight Charter.
But that's just one person's review. Have a different view? I'd love your thoughts. Add a comment below!
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