The City in the Middle of the Night might just keep you up late


Charlie Jane Anders’ next novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, may take some time to truly unfold. But once it does, it’ll take hold.

There are sentences in The City in the Middle of the Night that will make you stop and appreciate their profundity. There are some that will make you appreciate the craft that went into them. And there are some that are so intricate that you might need to read them a few times over.

It’s clear that Charlie Jane Anders knows her references, too, in her writing style and even the worldbuilding she does for the planet January, from the ideas of people decaying from what they once were to an ancient alien civilization that actually goes full alien. As a former editor-in-chief of io9, a reader would expect some knowledge, but Anders goes deeper than the surface. Even the title of her novel does that, and we’d expect that either she or whoever determined it knew what they were doing.

In the most general of terms, The City in the Middle of the Night is about the relationships that define the lives of Sophie and Mouth, two very different women on January, and how they explore and experience the different societies there. In some ways, their own individual stories don’t matter as much as the meaning of those stories, which is itself a point about the book.

If you’re looking for something more action-packed, you’ll be disappointed; there are bursts here and there, but this is more an old-school exploration updated with modern writing. There’s something pleasant about that, even if it means a reader may have to ease back in if they like to bounce around between genres. It’s not full-on ponderous or anything like that, but there’s a slowness to this novel, particularly in the early going, before things start to be revealed.

Once you buy in, though, Sophie and Mouth’s alternating stories, even pointedly told from different points-of-view and tenses even as their paths cross, start to fly by, and a reader gets to marvel more. They’ll still be aware of the work — much like the city of Xiosphant has its idea of Timefulness (in other words, minding the time passing even without the markers we have on Earth) — but they can have a second layer of perspective on it.

In fact, The City in the Middle of the Night seems expressly built to bring on discussion, from some of Anders’ word and phrase choices to the greater themes to even how a planet like January would work. Whether or not that’s a strength or a weakness probably comes down to the individual reader, and it may even depend on when they come to this title. If you need every detail of a world’s history explained, this isn’t the book for you at all, though. Anders is just evocative enough to give you an idea without sitting down and fully spelling everything out.

19 books we can't wait to read in 2019. light. Related Story

And in that way, you, too, might end up in the middle of the night, trying to puzzle it all out. In this writer’s view, that’s a success.