Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Monday, August 6, 2012
Genre: young-adult, science fiction, post-apocalyptic
Series: Conquered Earth #1
Pages: 385 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected October 30 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

In a post-apocalyptic world controlled by alien invaders, two teens and a young girl with mysterious powers embark on a dangerous journey. What they find will change everything...

Earth has been conquered. An extraterrestrial race known as The Assembly has abducted the adult population, leaving the planet's youth to fend for themselves. In this treacherous landscape, Holt, a bounty hunter, is transporting his prisoner Mira when they discover Zoey, a young girl with powerful abilities who could be the key to stopping The Assembly. As they make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, the trio must contend with freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and perhaps most perilous of all: Holt and Mira's growing attraction to each other.

Midnight City is the breathtaking first novel in the Conquered Earth series, and a stunning work of imagination from debut author J. Barton Mitchell.

I have many, many feelings about this book. A lot of them are good, like: "Ooooh, this is unexpectedly creeeepy!" or "This is an author who can write strong female protagonists!"  but, sadly, some are along the lines of: "What the hell is going on?" and "Why aren't any of my questions -- most pertaining to key elements of the plot -- being answered?"  There's obviously a lot of imagination and inventiveness going on throughout the nearly 400-page ARC I read, and some elements just aren't satisfactorily touched on enough to merit more than a 3.5/5 star rating. That all aside, I inhaled this book in under five and a half hours. I was glued to the pages from the first actiontastic chapter up until riiiight about 30 or so pages from the end, when Midnight City tried to do too much in too short of a span of pages. Missteps and unanswered questions aside, I really liked what Mitchell had to offer in this strong debut novel, and I would read it again.

The blending of post-apocalyptic and science fiction genres is not one I encounter a lot in my reading areas. I like both, but rarely seek them out, and the stark picture Mitchell paints with his almost-dystopic future is wholly unique for me as a reader. The scenario and mix of genres allows Mitchell to create a very engrossing, new type of setting, with a creative plotline to go along with it. I admit that I went into this with low expectations because I don't read a lot of science fiction about aliens, especially hostile ones -- they've scared me deeply since I watched Aliens when I was, oh, five or so. (Blame my sister --I surely do.) -- but Midnight City has an undeniably great mix of futuristic tech, alien life forms, and creative mixes of all the above, which was more than enough to make me see past my alien-bias. While not everything about the story is explained as well or cohesively as I'd have liked or enough to inflate my rating (like the artifacts and the Strange Lands), the bare bones laid down here are surely to be explained in the forthcoming sequels. Or so I can fervently hope -- what I can forgive in an introductory novel is far more than in subsequent novels.

Third person omniscient can be tough to pull off, especially in YA and especially with more than one character used to narrate the story. Not so is the case here; though Mira and Holt are always at a bit of a distance from the reader, it's quite easy to invest in and care about these two characters struggling to survive and do the right thing in a world gone mad. And  it's impossible not to love Max. I appreciated how deftly Mitchell portrayed his protagonists: both are sharp, cunning, and resourceful, though in vastly different ways. The author obviously takes time and care to illustrate their respective strengths and weaknesses, very rarely falling into the trap of "telling" instead of showing. Their relationship is complex and doesn't rush headlong into tropes or cliches; refreshing for a YA novel indeed. From a captor/captive situation to uneasy allies to friends with sparkly feelings, the evolution of Holt and Mira's connection felt both organic and natural for both. This is definitely  more of aplot-driven novel, but all of the main characters from Holt to Mira to "the Max" to Zoey can more than hold their own.

Midnight City was easily coasting along at about a 3.75 or even a 4/5 rating for me, until the very end. What had been an adventure at an even pace for 350 pages turned into a madcap rush to the finish line. The ending thirty or so pages were a chaotic mess of unexplained happenings and no clear sense of what was going on. I was super confused, and then, pretty damn frustrated with a novel I had been thoroughly immersed in, just chapters before. Chaotic and much faster in pace than anything that had come before, I was let down by the final climax and that cliffhanger of a denouement. There are so many unanswered questions once the final page is turned and (this may get a bit SPOILERY! So stay away!) they felt like a glaring omission. For instance: why was Holt on the run from the Menagerie/have a bounty on his head? What was Ben's relationship with Mira? How/why can Zoey do the things she can do? [The 'few' memories felt like a cop-out and explained NOTHING!] Why are the different factions of the Assembly fighting one another for/over the eight-year-old? It's just too much left vague, hanging open to interpretation, and also feels like an easy way to ensure readers continue with book two.

Simply put, the first Conquered Earth novel wasn't a perfect novel, but I really liked it. J. Barton Mitchell is an even-handed storyteller: able to ramp up the tension with several hair-raising action scenes while still majorly bringing it with the cast of diverse, individual characters. I'll be more than interested to see what he dreams up for the group of hardy survivors, and hope that his talent as a writer continues to grow. Midnight City is entertaining, unique, and wholly readable. Engrossing even - fans of Ender's Game and other YA alien scifi favorites would do well to pick this one up.


  1. I felt the SAME WAY! We actually rated this book exactly the same and like you, I felt as if the ending was rushed and it simply lost me! While most of the novel was cruising along one basic plot line, the last couple chapters threw in a ton of different stuff which not only bogged down the pace, but left me quite unsatisfied too. I'm still quite excited for the sequel though, although perhaps with a few reservations. I'm hoping it resumes like the beginning of this novel was! Anyway, brilliant review, Jessie! :D

    Ivy Book Bindings

    1. We are so in sync, lately! Let's hope it lasts through your read of Eona - because I LOOOVED that one!

      This one definitely had some flaws, but Zoey (and "the Max"), especially, got to me. I'll for sure be tuning into book two! Thanks, Keertana!


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