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The Midnight Charter

Review

The Midnight Charter

In a high tower overlooking the ancient city-state of Agora, the astrologer Count Stelli is plotting the downfall of an enemy when he should be watching the night skies. The key to his plan is a boy who was rescued from certain death and sold to the Count's grandson as a servant. The boy, Mark, who has just turned 13, along with Lily, the other servant of the household, will switch places at a critical moment and set into motion a series of events that will change them --- and possibly Agora --- forever. Mark and Lily are at the center of this dark, moody work of speculative fiction by David Whitley.

THE MIDNIGHT CHARTER is a dystopian vision of an ancient world corrupted by greed, insensitivity and a skewed sense of value. Agora's society is based on an overly legalistic reliance on contracts for even the simplest of exchanges. Instead of items and services having fair value, individuals are rendered as property or commodity and can easily become discarded as “damaged goods.” In Agora, though a person may be tossed aside and understood as inconsequential, even emotions are bought and sold, though most intangible qualities are viewed as without worth. The city itself is guided by astrology and ruled by distant, mysterious men who are wracked with plague and poverty.

Once Mark and Lily step outside their proscribed roles, they encounter a society corrupted at the very highest levels. Mark becomes a famous astrologer, and Lily starts working to ease the suffering of the city's rejected masses, administering medical and social care in an almshouse. Although their work is at odds, their friendship, forged in Count Stelli's tower, is not forgotten. As the story progresses, Mark becomes more wrapped up in success and power, but Lily begins to see the evil underpinnings of the city. Finally, she finds the Midnight Charter, a document that may explain the role both she and Mark are expected to fulfill in Agora's history. This leads her to a terrifying choice, one that I will let you discover for yourself.

Whitley's novel, the first in a trilogy, is ambitious and conceptual. The pace is slow and deliberate, not action-packed, yet this is an adventure tale nonetheless. Some readers may find a few religious undertones, but Whitley's main concern seems to be an exploration of morals and ethics in a world where humanity has gone awry. He nicely sets a tone, his descriptions of Agora are evocative, and his characters are interesting and often surprising. Overall, THE MIDNIGHT CHARTER is a challenging book that is sure to draw readers in to the world of Agora and the fate of Mark and Lily.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on September 1, 2009

The Midnight Charter
by David Whitley

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fantasy, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • ISBN-10: 1596433817
  • ISBN-13: 9781596433816