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The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night

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Would you give up everything to change the world?

Humanity clings to life on January--a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.

Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization--but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives--with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.

Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge--and they are running out of time.

Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night.

366 pages, Hardcover

First published February 12, 2019

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About the author

Charlie Jane Anders

151 books3,791 followers
My latest book is Victories Greater Than Death. Coming in August: Never Say You Can't Survive: How to Get Through Hard Times By Making Up Stories.

Previously: All the Birds in the Sky, The City in the Middle of the Night, and a short story collection, Six Months, Three Days, Five Others.

Coming soon: An adult novel, and a short story collection called Even Greater Mistakes.

I used to write for a site called io9.com, and now I write for various places here and there.

I won the Emperor Norton Award, for “extraordinary invention and creativity unhindered by the constraints of paltry reason.” I've also won a Hugo Award, a Nebula Award, a William H. Crawford Award, a Theodore Sturgeon Award, a Locus Award and a Lambda Literary Award.

My stories, essays and journalism have appeared in Wired Magazine, the Boston Review, Conjunctions, Tin House, Slate, MIT Technology Review, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Tor.com, Lightspeed Magazine, McSweeney’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, ZYZZYVA, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Uncanny Magazine, 3 AM Magazine, Flurb.net, Monkey Bicycle, Pindeldyboz, Instant City, Broken Pencil, and in tons and tons of anthologies.

I organize Writers With Drinks, which is a monthly reading series here in San Francisco that mashes up a ton of different genres. I co-host a Hugo Award-winning podcast, Our Opinions Are Correct, with Annalee Newitz.

Back in 2007, Annalee and I put out a book of first-person stories by female geeks called She’s Such a Geek: Women Write About Science, Technology and Other Nerdy Stuff. There was a lot of resistance to doing this book, because nobody believed there was a market for writing about female geeks. Also, Annalee and I put out a print magazine called other, which was about pop culture, politics and general weirdness, aimed at people who don’t fit into other categories. To raise money for other magazine, we put on events like a Ballerina Pie Fight – which is just what it sounds like – and a sexy show in a hair salon where people took off their clothes while getting their hair cut.

I used to live in a Buddhist nunnery, when I was a teenager. I love to do karaoke. I eat way too much spicy food. I hug trees and pat stone lions for luck. I talk to myself way too much when I’m working on a story.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,028 reviews
Profile Image for Samantha.
441 reviews16.8k followers
September 15, 2019
I probably would have DNF’d this book if I wasn’t reading it for the Tome Infinity Readathon. While I think the writing was beautiful at times, I don’t get what the story was trying to tell me. This standalone feels incomplete and honestly, like barely anything happened. Conflict is resolved in a single chapter and we move on to the next thing, which makes everything feel like there’s no stakes. There is implied romantic tension between two characters that ends up in the last minute being unrequited love, which makes no sense based on some conversations. Character arcs feel half baked, and one of the main characters in particular feels very naive in who she chooses to trust, bordering on stupid after the same types of things happen again and again. So much is left unresolved and I just don’t see the point.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
785 reviews12.5k followers
January 3, 2021
When I first read this book about a year ago, it left me baffled and irritated. It had potential but kept failing to live up to it. But I did not have much choice but to finish it — I was stuck on a long flight (ah, those carefree pre-Covid times), and my other reading entertainment would have been the in-flight magazine.

Then recently I saw that it was a Hugo nominee, and realized that for the life of me I could not recall what it was about. Maybe it was jet lag, I thought. Maybe I should give it another chance. So I did. And well, jet lag had not been responsible for the disappointment. And now somehow I ended up reading the book I disliked twice. Go figure.

You see, this book is *very* uneven. So let me break it down a bit.

Let’s start with the good.

The premise was fantastic. We have a tidally locked planet with only a thin sliver of the surface between the eternal hellish day and the permanently frozen wasteland that is suitable for human habitation, a place where “living in harmony with nature […] is antithetical to human life.” We have the stark contrast between the two human city-states in this zone - Xiosphant, the City of Timefulness, an oppressive and regimented place full of tensions and budding revolutionaries, and Argelo, the City that Never Sleeps, a seemingly anarchic paradise which is nevertheless in the grips of its own hierarchies and lawlessness. The route between them is fraught with perils, and bands of smugglers manage to (mostly) make their occasional trips between the diametrally opposite societies. And deep in the eternal darkness, on the other side of the planet, in the frigid wasteland, lies the titular City in the Middle of the Night, the city of aliens both feared and hunted by the humans.
Inevitable collisions and conflicts have no choice but to arise out of all the tensions, right?
“Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violent. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another.”
There are political machinations, and fight for survival, and amazing alien discoveries, and drama and betrayal and lust for power. All the ingredients¹ for a great SF novel are here, just waiting to produce an instant classic.
¹ But sadly just having the right ingredients does not guarantee a decent result. It’s like me trying to bake a cake - no matter how many great ingredients I have, the result is always a half-burnt semi-edible rock cake — great as a defense weapon, bad as food.

This novel is like that: despite the great ideas, it really struggles with what it’s trying to be.

All these great novel ambitions simply fizzled out as the story progressed. When put together, it all fails to organically and meaningfully connect, remaining a jumble of great ideas and unfortunately subpar execution. Somehow despite its modest length it felt almost endless. And that’s never a good thing.

Maybe it’s because the pacing is quite off. The story meanders, wasting page space on things that don’t matter much (— just to go triple-speed at the end, the unnecessary breakneck speed (
Perhaps because of the pacing issues (or maybe because of the protagonists stupidity — in Sophie’s case, that’s because mooning over Bianca leaves her brain no room for anything else) the development of the story and characters suffers quite a bit. For instance, most of Xiosphant oppressiveness is told, not shown, and because of that it’s not believable. Sophie’s happens quickly and without a glitch — and just feels much too easy and plot-convenient, as though the plot outline required it to happen and so it was going to happen almost off page to keep the story going. Bianca’s is also off page, mentioned in a throw-away paragraph, with nothing making sense —

There are two main POV characters - an idealistic and mostly passive dreamer Sophie, who is exiled into the deadly night after breaking the law and as a result establishes contact with the alien society; and gruff Mouth, a smuggler scavenger who struggles with processing the brutal slaughter of her tribe years prior. There are two important secondary characters, best friends and lovers of the main two: a power-hungry Bianca, an unexpected revolutionary who just happens to be Sophie’s obsessively unwavering crush and therefore is mostly seen through Sophie’s highly unreliable point of view, and Alyssa, Mouth’s “sleepmate” who I guess was also there.

The characters stayed so dull, especially Sophie. Sophie, who remains such a blindly obsessed and lovestruck fool for so long that it becomes exasperating. Mouth sums it up best: “I’m Sophie’s bodyguard, and she’s an idiot.” 93% into the book we are still getting this nonsense:
“And something inside me […] opens up at the sound of Bianca’s voice: like clear water flowing down the side of one of those marble fountains, in just the right amount of partial sunlight, back in Argelo. I almost don’t care that she’s telling me about murdering so many people.”
97% in, she finally comes to the realization that I would have been screaming at her about half a book earlier if I still could even pretended to care: “I’ve been so stupid. The Gelet are counting on my help, but I can’t stop throwing away my life for Bianca. It’s all I ever do.”

And all the characters behavior and conflicts and resentments feel just so painfully juvenile.

And then it all just ... stops. Seriously. Like a page limit was reached and the author decided to just quit, leaving that not really open-ended but just unfinished.

And ultimately unsatisfying.

2.5 stars.

My Hugo and Nebula Awards Reading Project 2020: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Anthony.
Author 4 books1,897 followers
August 12, 2018
Charlie Jane Anders writes prose that is infused with imagination, compassion, heartache, and a deep exploration of what makes us human. The City in the Middle of the Night is a huge departure from her first novel, All the Birds in the Sky, in almost every way: tone, rhythm, subject matter, milieu; but what the two novels share is Anders’ transporting, invigorating confidence as a storyteller. Anders trusts her audience to follow her as she spins a tale that unfolds with precision, presenting wholly original ideas, new and beautiful life forms, and chillingly extrapolated and corrupt societies. Her vividly drawn characters travel into the deepest and darkest nooks and crannies of human experience, teetering on the brink of despair and almost succumbing to trauma, but somehow always struggling to survive, to find connection and love. Anders’ wild and brazen and dire visions of what life on a desolate and doomed planet could look like at times mix the anarchic violence of Mad Max with Ursula K. Le Guin’s humane and complex anthropological inventiveness. There’s a tremendous amount of darkness, real and metaphorical, suffusing this novel, but there is also an abiding hope that maybe, just maybe, the deeply flawed and damaged people who inhabit it can find their way into the light.
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
720 reviews1,119 followers
February 29, 2020
“We measure the freedom of human beings by their ability to change with their environment. The only truly alien influence is the dead grasping fingers of our own past.”

I’m trying to expand my horizons by reading more Sci Fi. But this did not float my boat. There were some pearls of writing, but that didn’t make up for the rest.

Two POVs. Sophie, in love with her best friend Bianca takes the fall for Bianca’s mistake and ends up cast out into the never ending night. Bianca thinks Sophie is dead, but Sophie finds a way to survive and return, something that will change her outlook forever.

Second POV - Mouth. She was a member of the citizens, a group of nomads who travelled together until tragedy struck. Now she and her best friend Alyssa wander around aimlessly.

Soon these two POVs connect and their stories intertwined. I liked Mouth, she was my favourite. She doesn’t let people in and is quick to violence if anyone crosses her. I didn’t like Bianca, she was a brat and Sophie’s obsession with her really needed to stop.

My main dislike was I didn’t enjoy it as a story arc. The whole thing just felt weird.

There were some good parts but it wasn’t an enjoyable reading experience overall.

“Maybe you don’t get to choose how you make peace, or what kind of peace you make. You count yourself lucky if peace doesn’t run away from you.”
Profile Image for Jamesboggie.
299 reviews18 followers
July 31, 2019
I received an advanced reading copy of The City in the Middle of the Night through a Goodreads giveaway. I was excited by the premise, and looked forward to reading my first Charlie Jane Anders story. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the experience.

I think The City in the Middle of the Night was aiming a little for a The Left Hand of Darkness feeling. Admittedly, I was primed for this comparison by a promotional quote on the back. However, I think the comparison of two anthropologically different societies explored by an outsider who is abused by both is similar. I had a similar feeling of trying to find what was important in the story until the pieces fell together near the end. I was disappointed that Circadianism and anarchy/rule by organized crime were not explored with the same level of depth or detail as Le Guin would have in her stories.

There are many science fiction elements in this story. In no particular order, I noticed:
-after Earth
-planetary colonization
-tidally locked planet
-inhuman intelligent species/civilization
-severe climate change
-anthropological elements like Circadianism

Still, it feels a lot like a fantasy novel. People live in city state surrounded by wilderness. Said wilderness is filled with monsters. Society is shaped by declining technology, leaving the past almost mythological and old technological like ancient magic.

As I said, for much of the story the point was not clear. The science fiction elements were kept mostly as background to a very personal human story. That kind of story can be great, especially when the science fiction elements are used to explore common human themes in new ways. The problem is that I disliked or hated all but one major character. The protagonist, Sophie, was a mostly passive protagonist with an unearned sense of self-righteousness and an inaccurate reputation for great intelligence. Her all-but-explicit lesbian lover Bianca is a naive, selfish, manipulative girl hellbent on gaining power at all costs. Alyssa is a violent criminal ready to throw her lot in with anyone who will give her a fight, and she constantly picks the wrong person.

Anders writes each of these three characters as if the reader should like them. I cannot recall a greater difference between how characters present each other and what the reader witnesses in any story. Sophie is called intelligent and virtuous, but continually makes stupid decisions that should by any right get her killed and do get others killed. Alyssa is treated like a smart and loyal friend, but constantly tears down her all-but-explicit lesbian lover. Bianca is presented like an idealistic and hardworking revolutionary until almost the end, when she is obviously just a selfish and manipulative girl. If the difference between presentation and reality was supposed to be a theme of the story, I missed it.

The treatment of the fourth character, Mouth, killed any enjoyment I could have gotten from the book. She is the second perspective character, and in my opinion the only likable one. The other characters do not agree. Each constantly tears her down. She is called a liar, a traitor, and a failure by everyone who should care about her. These accusations are all false, but the characters repeat them as if they are true. Characters devalue her interests and desires. Everyone treats her like she has to redeem herself for great sins that I saw her not commit. Apparently Mouth suffered this treatment her entire life, as her dead family told her she was unworthy of a real name (a fact Alyssa repeatedly says she should just get over). It is classic abusive behavior, and Mouth reacts like an abused person. She internalizes the criticism, and breaks down. Anders never acknowledges the abuse, and I simply cannot enjoy reading about someone get abused from an unsympathetic perspective. I always want to be on the side of the abused.

I was also distracted by the fact that the two lesbian relationships come just short of being explicit. I do not know why in this day and age, Anders would avoid making a committed relationship of two women who literally sleep together explicit. I cannot believe these characters as anything but lesbian lovers.

In the last hundred pages, the elements start to fall together. Sophie and Mouth visit the city of the Gelet, and learn how humans have impacted the environment. It becomes clear that Sophie’s experiences have shaped her to be an intermediary to coordinate these societies toward a solution. The wrapping up almost saved the story.

Sadly, the story does not end so much as abruptly stop. It leaves no questions to ponder except “what’s next?” The story is so incomplete that I can only interpret the “ending” as sequel bait. I will not read any sequel.

-EDIT 2/20/2019-
I got a chance to ask Charlie Jane Anders about the abuse that Mouth suffers. Her answer was not very helpful. I think a fair summation of Anders’ answer is “Mouth was a selfish person at the start, deserved the treatment she received, grew as a result of it, and gained really great friends in Alyssa and Sophie.” I strongly disagree with every point of that answer, and want to briefly give spoilers to explain my view. I will do my best from memory, as I gave my ARC away.

Anders called Mouth selfish at the beginning. I could not disagree more.

I do not think I have to argue that no one deserves abuse. However, I feel like I have to give an example to demonstrate that the other characters do abuse Mouth. I could write many pages, but I will focus on one type of abuse.

Anders claims that Mouth grows as a person for the abuse she receives, but I see no evidence of that.

Anders claims that Mouth gains great friends. This is the easiest point to dispute. Alyssa and Sophie are inexcusably awful to Mouth. I would not stand for that treatment for myself or others.

I was very disappointed by Anders’ answer. I may pick up a copy only to give more specific evidence for the abuse. Either way, I hope people with traumatic pasts steer clear of this book.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books4,109 followers
February 17, 2019
I'm caught in gravity's tug. I'm stuck between two massive bodies forever tidally locked. ; ;

You know those books that have that certain something that could make them truly great but then they stumble because of the characters within them?

Yeah. This is one of those novels. I can see and appreciate where the author is trying to go here with the characters so full of themselves, their ideals, or their misunderstandings of one another. It fits so nicely with the greater misunderstandings between the Gelids and humanity... but I have to say that the fundamental concept here is much, much easier to take than the execution.

The bad part of this novel:

Every time I wanted to find some truly great aspect of personality or plot push to latch my hopes on, I was faced with regular people doing stupid things for regular stupid reasons, muddying the waters and generally being jerks to one another. I didn't particularly like any of the main characters except, perhaps, Mouth.

And then the good:

Everything else!

This is the definition of uneven for me. I can appreciate, intellectually, what is going on, but when you can't hang your consciousness on great characters to move you along a MUCH better worldbuilding experience, it becomes something of a drag. In fact, I became so invested in the plethora of great ideas that I kept re-writing the book in my own mind to fly with them in new ways, extending dichotomy between the hurting human city and the alien, maligned Gelids living everywhere in the dark, being tentacular monsters, but also BETTER PEOPLE than those inside the human habitations. :)

It's not just that, though. I loved the tidally locked planet, all the darkness and the need for other perceptions, the communication through tentacles, the transformations, the culture, and everything else about the SFnal experience.

I FELT like this novel could have been one of the greats. It certainly has all the deep explorations of culture, aliens, and setting, giving us a very dark look at a far-future humanity with a lot more to think about than is generally the case. Classic SF always did a pretty good job of this but sometimes a novel or two drills down DEEPER. And this is one.

So I'm caught between a solid 3-star read for characters modified by a cool mirroring with the theme and a very solid 5 star SFnal novel. ; ;

This isn't much like All the Birds in the Sky, alas, but I'm very curious to see what she'll come up with next.
Profile Image for Holly (The GrimDragon).
1,056 reviews233 followers
February 10, 2019
"I close my eyes and imagine that when I open them again I will have outgrown all of my feelings. Sometimes I clasp my eyelids until I almost see sparks."

Well.. fuck.

I'm a quick reader, this book isn't that long to begin with.. yet it derailed some of my TBR plans because it was seemingly endless. It just felt like a fucking slog to get through at times!

Unfortunately, this feels like an incredibly ambitious story that just didn't come together fully. It wasn't given enough room to breathe. It's certainly well-written and the premise is rad as hell, but nothing grabbed me by the throat and resonated with me. The characters were unbearably dull and even though there were two f/f relationships which I was wicked excited for, they were lacking any genuine connection. There was no passion or chemistry.


I truly do not like writing less than stellar book reviews. I am not about shitting all over something. However, I believe in being honest and sharing my own personal thoughts. I like to believe that I'm transparent in that sense. If I'm promoting a book, it's because I fucking loved it! I'm not doing it because I was given a free copy or I dig the author. I'm still salty about an off-screen death from my beloved Joe Abercrombie and I WILL TELL YOU AS MUCH!!


I'm rambling. Again.

Basically, what I'm trying to say is, no one is perfect. It's healthy to have a critical eye when it comes to things. The good and bad parts. As much as I adore CJA (her old columns on io9 were EVERYTHING) I just.. didn't love The City in the Middle of the Night. Even though I desperately wanted to.

I was talking to my friend Beth about this book since she was also reading it. We both felt incredibly similar. We are huge fans of Charlie Jane Anders and were stupid pumped for this book, wanting it to be incredibly successful for her because she is such a rad individual.. yet it was just lacking something.

The City in the Middle of the Night is one that SO MANY people, especially YA readers, will love. But it just wasn't for me.

(Thanks to Tor Books for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!)

**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**
Profile Image for Josh.
1,649 reviews156 followers
March 19, 2019
Not since 2018's Blackfish City by Sam J Miller has a novel captured my imagination and enveloped me in a complete shroud of the other worldly as The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders by virtue of its intricate and epic world building.

Set many years into the future, mankind has taken to the stars in search of a new home. In January, they've found one, but the planet has a dark side; one which bathes half its surface in perpetual darkness while the other endures a never ending cycle of daylight.

There is so much to like about this novel; complex and well defined characters, interesting and dangerous landscapes (both political and physical), and some serious cool biological science fiction. The only downside is that the story had to end somewhere; both good and bad, as it left me wanting more.

My rating; 4/5 stars. I really like this novel and have my fingers crossed we'll see more of Sophie, the Gelet, and others (who I won't mention as to avoid spoilers).
Profile Image for Justine.
1,158 reviews312 followers
February 19, 2019
3.5 stars

I was a huge fan of Anders' debut novel, All the Birds in the Sky, and so I was really excited to read her new book. The City in the Middle of the Night is absolutely and completely different in every way. I'll be honest, it did take me awhile to warm up to it, but by the end, I was pretty much sold.

I did for the most part enjoy Anders' writing, and I liked the general idea of the story. However, I found the first half a bit difficult to engage with. I had a bit of trouble with the incredibly toxic relationship between Sophie and Bianca, and that really doesn't change throughout the book. Sophie grows immensely as a character, but her attachment to Bianca foils her over and over. I see now that this whole difficult journey is ultimately part of her process of growth, but it isn't easy to read.

The other POV character, Mouth, started out quite unappealing to me, but she did end up changing into someone I felt more compassion for.

The second half of the book was much more rewarding for me. While I found the worldbuilding set in the human cities a bit hard to visualize, I thought the sections focused on the Gelet city and culture were very well done.

Overall, after a slow start for I ultimately ended up enjoying this book and the unique story it told. My main complaint would be that it ended right at the point when the story became most interesting to me.

[T]o join with others to shape a future is the holiest act. This is hard work, and it never stops being hard, but this collective dreaming/designing is the only way we get to keep surviving, and this practice defines us as a community.
Profile Image for Daniel B..
Author 3 books32.5k followers
March 5, 2019
This book manages to do everything well, without doing anything exceptional. It is like a solid dome. There are no real weak points, but nothing stands out to the reader. I do not regret reading it, but I am left wanting something more.

The most glaring weakness The City in the Middle of the Night suffers from is asking so many questions, without providing many satisfactory answers. The framing of a codependent relationship also became a bit... bothersome to deal with.

The strongest point of the series comes from the authors vision. Charlie Jane Anders clearly has an incredible mind for fiction. Tons of great ideas make up the stories setting, but that well built world just kind of lists around without taking the reader to a substantial end destination.
Profile Image for Misha.
750 reviews8 followers
June 4, 2019
Wow. This book. All the stars. This is a science fiction novel steeped in the politics and prose of relationships. Humanity has arrived on a cold, tidally-locked planet, January, with searing sun rays on one side and constructed societies of survival in different pockets on the dark side of the planet with different rules and regulations. Trade has suffered and many ethnic communities perished on the generation ship on the way to January; the remaining society's class structure is still based on the primacy of the dominant communities. This is the story of Sophie and Bianca, two young women who meet in school and whose personalities are formed in the cauldron of their connection and idealistic dreams. Sophie is spellbound by Bianca, a beautiful girl from the ruling class with bold ideas about how to change the society they are in, intoxicating with outsized personality and revolutionary dreams. Sophie is quietly in love with Bianca, in a society that shuns homosexuality. Bianca bonds with Sophie, but her risky choices set Sophie up to take a fall for her, starting a pattern with the two of them that will replicate with a cyclical clockwork of its own.

But when Sophie is cast out and is taken in by a creature her people call the crocodiles and treat like monsters and meat, she begins to question all that she thought she knew.

Narrated in the first person from Sophie's perspective, with Mouth's (a renegade from a wandering people who were all wiped out) sections in third person, this book unfolds with a slow burn of growing urgency and illumination.

This is a story of ecological consequences, humanity's push and pull for control and freedom, our need to have someone to believe in, how our idea of the person we love may be quite different from the person they truly are, and how it is so hard to admit when we have been betrayed by a person we thought worthy of our trust.

Charlie Jane Anders is in peak form in this brilliant, thoughtful novel. This is the kind of science fiction I wait and hope for--the kind of stories that make me think and feel, that leave me quite torn apart and also stitched back together in the end.

--History is a process for "turning idiots into visionaries" (15)
--"If you control our sleep, then you own our dreams...And from there, it's easy to master our whole lives" (19)
--"Part of how they make you obey is by making obedience seem peaceful, while resistance is violent. But really, either choice is about violence, one way or another." (71)
--"I never loved anybody the way I have loved Bianca. But I know in my shattered core that I would have been a better friend to her if I had walked away in that scrapyard. I need to learn to belong to other people the way everyone else seems to, with one hand in the wind." (273)
--Mayhew: "We measure the freedom of human beings by their ability to change with the environment. The only truly alien influence is the dead grasping fingers of our own past." (296)
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews388 followers
May 9, 2020
Compared with the fast-paced, kinetic, and campy All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders opts for a more languid and slow approach in The City in the Middle of the Night. This book was a struggle to get through for the majority of the read. Anders’ two leads, Sophie and Mouth—*sigh* yes, Mouth—spend a good portion of the book wallowing in their respective trauma. It’s not that these narratives are inherently boring, but Sophie’s endless deferral to the entitled Bianca rarely felt like exciting reading to me.

When the book departs from the confines of the two dystopian cities, it is at its best. January’s tidally locked planet and creature feature fauna are terrifying, exciting, and left me wanting more when they inevitably returned to Xiosphant or Argelo. I found myself almost screaming every time that Sophie would pine after Bianca, or wonder how to make Bianca like her. Frankly, it may just be me, but those portions become nigh-insufferable by the time I sat down to my fourth or fifth serving.

Almost the entire time I was reading the book I was thinking, “This is a two-star book.” I wasn’t engaged with the characters or the events, but I was digging the world-building, which I had expected given Anders’ last novel. In fact, I had suggested this book for my book club as a “fun sci-fi” and was plagued with guilt for having chosen it.

But then, to my great surprise, the last 70 pages were pretty dope.

I’m not sure if it’s the type of thing that would have me recommending the book, but the novel takes an unexpected and much-needed turn in the last leg. Without dropping spoilers, it’s a bit of horror, a touch of real good new weird, and a whole lot more compelling than most of what comes before.

In fact, I found myself wondering, “How did Anders not get here sooner?” Since the book sags so much in the middle, I would have loved to see the twist arrive earlier and be further explored. Fortunately or not, there’s a strong suggestion of sequel at the novel’s end. If it follows the trend of these last pages, I’d read it!

As conflicted as I was about this book, and as much as I would have enjoyed something like All the Birds in the Sky, I was happy that Anders decided to go in a completely different direction with her second novel. The book definitely doesn’t slap the whole way through, but I was all over that last chunk.

Very guarded recommendation on this one folks!
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,331 reviews2,145 followers
March 3, 2021
I absolute loved this author's first book All the Birds in the Sky so I was quite shocked when I started this one and just could not get into it. After a few chapters I put it away and a couple of days ago decided to give it another try.

This time I was prepared for the start and although it still did not grab me I persevered. It was worth it. After a while I got into the story and the characters and I ended up finding it quite enjoyable. The world building was intriguing and so complicated it was sometimes hard to visualise. Some of the characters like Sophie and Mouth were really likeable, but Bianca was bad news from beginning to end.

Lots of things happened. There was never a chance of being bored once the action started, people died, people seemed to have died but hadn't, people survived amazing things like acid rain and sub zero temperatures. The ending arrived suddenly and left the future in considerable doubt. I think I would have liked some more. After someone dealt with the dreaded Bianca of course.
Profile Image for Mary Robinette Kowal.
Author 239 books4,888 followers
January 3, 2021
This was a completely fascinating, fully realized world full of deeply flawed characters. I loved the hope that came out of damage and also kept wanting to take Sophie and Mouth away and ply them with tea and warm blankets.
Profile Image for Geo Marcovici.
1,285 reviews299 followers
July 3, 2020
Translation widget on The blog!!!
Un roman al unei lumi stranii, plină de reguli menite să inhibe personalitatea oamenilor, cu pericole și monștrii care au diferite forme. Nu pot spune că mi-a plăcut cartea, dar nici că mi-a displăcut. Pur și simplu a fost o lectură ciudată, pe care curiozitatea nu m-a lăsat să o abandonez.
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Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews192 followers
April 17, 2020
The layers. Oh the layers.

4.5 stars

I almost didn't read this, but then it was a Hugo Award finalist, and I'm so glad I changed my mind. The City in the Middle of the Night has some of the most interesting worldbuilding I've read in a while, character dynamics that deeply appeal to me, and writing so beautiful I could cry.

At its heart, this is a story about a toxic relationship between two women, the kind of toxic relationship queer women in a heteronormative society are intimately familiar with: the love for the popular, Straight best friend who claims to love you (though how is always left to interpretation, deliberately) but actually sees you as a pawn, as means to an end more than anything. It's not a case that this book ended where it did, and the final confrontation wasn't about the revolution or what will happen to Xiosphant. The City in the Middle of the Night is about Sophie and Bianca, what they feel for each other, why they are drawn to each other and why they chafe, always chafe in the end.
It's a story about the importance of open-mindedness and acceptance, about how for some fighting for change is a way to help people thrive, while for others is only important as far as it gives them privilege, attention, power over others. It's the negative of a love story, and yet there's so much love in its pages, in the questions it raises, in the ending it chose.

Sophie and Bianca aren't the only main characters. Half of this book is told in Mouth's PoV, and I found those parts to be less compelling for a variety of reasons, the main one being how the supporting characters in it weren't as well-drawn. Mouth's and Alyssa's relationship was an interesting foil to Sophie and Bianca's, strained for different reasons but born from similarities between the two characters (though again, I didn't feel it was as well-developed), and Mouth's arc was a foil to Sophie's. Sophie's story is about knowledge as a bridge over misunderstanding, the importance of learning about the past, while Mouth's was about knowledge as something that drags you down, and the need to let go of the past. I live for foils, and I thought this was really clever, because it's true that a core part of being human is wondering how much of the past one can forgive or understand or let go. It's often not easy to understand which between forgetting or deepening one's understanding would help.
And, of course, Gelet society is a foil to humanity in that! It only makes sense for a book set on a tidally locked planet, half day and half night, to exist in mirrors and explore the gray between the ends of binaries, after all.

Now, let's talk about the worldbuilding. Setting a book on a tidally locked planet is an incredibly cool concept to begin with, and the details made it even better, made it feel real, while never making anything difficult to grasp. We start the story in Xiosphant, the city in which Time has become a way to control the people through the idea of Circadianism: everyone has to do the same things at the same time. Everything is designed to make you feel like you're running out of time, to make not wonder about the past so that you can't talk about privilege and power being concentrated in certain groups, to make you not talk about what's outside because the solutions that work for other countries could never work for Xiosphant, Xiosphant is special (this has a quote that is basically a parody American exceptionalism and that was my favorite moment). This book isn't exactly subtle, but sometimes one needs to go for the throat. And this might be a horrible place, but the details about the many different kinds of currency, the shutters and the farmwheels... it was so fascinating to read.

Xiosphant's foil is Argelo, the city that never sleeps, in which there's always some kind of party going on, some kind of battle, sometimes both things at the same time, and everything is based on "freedom", the freedom to do as one pleases, which usually includes trampling others and forming gangs to survive. The descriptions of the parties and locals in Argelo were breathtaking in all their extravagant details, and yet there was always that atmosphere of emptiness to it.
Both cities are dying, and have a lot in common - the violence, the lack of care and sense of community, the aversion to meaningful change - and the climate is going to destroy them in not much time, if everyone on the planet doesn't start cooperating in some way. While reading this, especially the Argelo part, I kept thinking about how in a book that doesn't grasp the dynamics of privilege, what privilege does to people (like, uh, most YA dystopians) Bianca would have been the heroine. I'm glad this is not that kind of book.

Argelo, Xiosphant and the City in the Middle of the Night (where the alien Gelet live) aren't the only societies explored. We also get to know about the people in Mouth's past, the Nomads, and their storyline had some really interesting parts, but again, like everything in Mouth's storyline, I didn't feel like the full implications of them were explored - that's the main reason this isn't going to be a full five star read for me. When we have a storyline as well-rounded as Sophie's, with a in-depth exploration of PTSD, of a toxic relationship and of an entire alien society, Mouth's story just feels faded, even though I get why it was there.

I couldn't end this review without talking about the writing, which I loved. For the descriptions, for how effective it was, for how much of this I highlighted. I understand why it's polarizing, it keeps you at arm's length from the characters. But, once you settle into it, it carries you in its flow like the visions of the Gilet, and it's breathtaking.
Profile Image for Bonnie McDaniel.
733 reviews33 followers
April 11, 2019
This book has an interesting concept, but the execution is....less so. This tale of a human settlement on a tidally locked planet (half in white-hot killer sunlight, half in frozen dark wastelands, with only a narrow center strip of habitable land) with slowly decaying technology, failing crops, changing climate, governmental upheavals, and deadly encounters with the native species, could have been an exciting adventure story in the right hands.

Unfortunately, that isn't this book.

There are a lot of problems with this book, but the deal-breakers for me were the pacing and the ending. This book is not well paced at all. A huge chunk of the center is simply a meandering, aimless muddle taking up pages for precious little purpose. The main characters wander here and there, get into trouble and out again, fight and escape death and settle in a new place that's worse than the first, and none of it serves to advance either characterization or plot, as far as I was concerned. Then, after the two main characters descend into the titular City and the Big Plot Point is finally revealed, the pacing becomes so breakneck there's no room to breathe or absorb what's happening. This plays right into the frankly terrible ending: with the last part (7 of 7) remaining, I realized there was way too few pages to account for all the plot threads and character beats that had been laid down. Sure enough, this book did not so much end as fizzle to a most unsatisfying halt, with all the storylines twisting in the wind. I looked at the last page and said, "Are you effing kidding me?" I'm not really one to throw books (especially hardbacks I've paid for) against the wall, but I assure you I thought about it.

The protagonists are not terribly well drawn either, and in particular there were several points where I wanted to slap Sophie. There's teenage angst, and being caught in the throes of first love, and then there's just being stupid (such as not realizing what the intensity of her feelings for Bianca really meant until the book was almost over, and repeatedly trying to redeem Bianca long after it should have been evident that there was no redemption). The book was much better--if there was a point where it could be termed "good" at all--when Sophie and Mouth were in the underground City, and Bianca was nowhere to be seen. In fact, now that I think about it, let's throw down the gauntlet and chop Bianca and her baggage right on out. Make this a tale of first contact, and the humans struggling to understand the Gelet, and the two species working together to overcome the horror of the humans' unknowingly despoiling the planet, and there might be an actual story here, instead of a mess.

That's what so frustrated me about this book, because I glimpsed the bones of what could have been, but they were almost completely buried. If there is a sequel to this book, I am not going to bother.
Profile Image for Varlan Georgian.
18 reviews135 followers
January 26, 2020
One of the most stupid books I've ever read. It was like reading a resume of Amonit with stupid characters that have even more stupid motivations, that doesn't transmit any emotion to the reader.
Profile Image for Susan Kennedy.
271 reviews9 followers
March 13, 2019
This one really took me some time to get through. I really wanted to like it and there were parts that I did enjoy. Overall, it was a bit of a struggle to get through.

The characters were okay. Sophie and Mouth were the better characters while the others were just okay. None of them really stuck with me. I found Bianca to be quite annoying. It was almost as if she had several personalities and it drove me a bit crazy. Other than that most of the characters I found to be forgettable.

The story was different, but there were so many times where it was so drawn out. It felt like it to ages to get to the point. There was always something going on and all of it was a bit confusing at times as well. I don't know, it was just okay for me. A bit of a difficult book to get through, but I never wanted to stop reading it. I did want to know how it ended up.

Now the ending, I hated it. It just ended and nothing was really finished. I thought it was a really strange way to end the story leaving it with so many things not answered or completed or something. I don't know, but I found it really odd and unfulfilling at the end. I think I would have given it a solid three star had the ending not been one of those that I loathed.

Profile Image for Dianne Trautmann.
208 reviews2 followers
March 14, 2019
If someone handed me this story and said this is a draft for a book, I would have said that with some polishing and editing and maybe even some rearranging (the end should have been in the middle of the book) I would have said that there was potential for a decent sci-fi story. I feel that several of the named creatures have 'place-holder names' that don't really match up with their brief descriptions.

World building is hard work.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,640 reviews3,890 followers
September 29, 2020
A weird reading experience for me where I was so drawn in by the prose that it overcame my general lack of interest in the characters or the plot. I think too much was happening in this book, which made me feel less invested in the book as a whole. That said, I'm definitely interested in trying more from the author, as the writing & world building were very strong
Profile Image for Allison Hurd.
Author 3 books752 followers
May 11, 2020
That was a refreshingly good story! Charlie Jane's niche seems to be books for YA audiences that break the mold.


Things to love:

-The main characters. I love that we see different experiences of womanhood, friendship, belief, trauma and love through these women. They felt multi-layered and complex, but also relatable. I think many young women could learn a lot from them.

-The world. Tidally locked planets don't get the screentime they deserve. This was so cool. Or, I guess, alternately boiling hot and freezing cold, depending where you were on the planet.

-The plot. So, I actually don't bring this up a lot as a positive. I feel most folks either sell their books short or try to make a story that isn't there. This plot is WILD and exciting but I feel we always took our time, and every step made sense given what we knew before.

-The relationships. There is no romance A plot! Indeed, there's very little erotic love whatsoever and lots and lots of exploration of infatuation, intimacy, and how things change over time. Very cool.

-The very end. I thought this was the perfect note.

Things that weren't perfect:

-The bad guys. This is where I think this book shows it's YA-or-whatever-we-call-this-style-of-story framework. Quintessential baddies that sort of let me down.

-A bit heavy-handed. I really like the topics broached and thought they were handled thoughtfully, but they were a bit in your face. Probably great for teens, again, a bit obvious from my lofty perch as an old.

-The beginning and most of the end. Again, like fairytales traditionally start with "once upon a time" and end with "happily ever after," this book starts with classic YA drama and ends with more drama appropriate to the audience.

But really, I think that's it. If I were younger or had read less of this style of story, I think it would have been perfect, and it might well be perfect for the intended audience, but I think it was just a few beats off of what it could have been to make it truly sing. Or, I'm going deaf. One of those two things.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,641 reviews2,158 followers
March 9, 2019
It takes longer than you'd expect to figure out what kind of book exactly you're reading when you read THE CITY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. It doesn't follow the rhythms and patterns you might expect, every so often the whole plot gets thrown on its head, and sometimes it seems that the only constant is the small group of characters at its center. But eventually, when the book is done, you can look back on it and see the tapestry it's been weaving all along the way. It's a story of friendship and loyalty, of ideals and practicalities, and above all it's a book about love and change and how the two don't always go hand in hand.

Sophie is the kind of character I've seen many times and often she sits in the background, always in the shadows while the person she cares about most claims the spotlight, in this story it's her school roommate Bianca, a charismatic activist from a wealthy family. But Sophie is the center of this story more than Bianca ever could be, she is its beating heart, and the book never sees her as anything less than a good person worthy of love and care, not just a plot device. She shares the book with Mouth, the sole survivor of a group of nomads who is trying to escape the pain of her past without knowing exactly what it is she wants from the world.

The planet where the story takes place is the focus of a lot of the book, Anders doesn't mind meandering through the story, taking you here and there, exploring the ways groups and cultures have adjusted to a place where one half is always in sun and the other always in darkness. Sometimes I admit to a little bit of impatience, wanting to get to the story already, but in the end the world that Anders built feels so fully inhabited that it serves the story well to let yourself slow down and walk through it with her.

Sophie and Mouth will, of course, cross paths and in many ways they are similar characters. They are loyal, willing to sacrifice, looking out for those around them. But the ways they move through the world are drastically different, Mouth is rough and tumble, Sophie is quiet and hopeful. Ultimately they will have to make drastic choices that the people they love may not understand. The things that rang most true to me in the novel were the ways in which the people who care about Sophie and Mouth want them to fit the idea that exists in their head, instead of letting them grow to express who they really are. There is a lot just under the surface (Anders never hits you on the head with it) that resonated with me about love, family, and queerness/identity.

I never really knew what to expect with this book but I enjoyed letting it take me along. I read it on audio, liked both readers, and found it pretty easy to follow in that format.
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,778 reviews1,776 followers
February 23, 2021
This book was so weird! And yet, I liked it more than I liked her first book, which I just never gelled with. I'm not sure that I liked every bit of this book (hated some of it, actually) but overall it was interesting.

It takes place on a tidally locked planet (a planet that doesn't spin on its axis, so that one side is always in dark and the other in light). The planet is called January, and humans migrated there hundreds of years before on a generation ship. They have inhabited the only place on the planet that is livable: the prime meridian. The night side is too cold, and the day would boil any human alive.

There are two narrators: Sophie, a resident of the highly regulated city Xiosphant; and Mouth, a smuggler whose crew moves goods through the dangerous landscape between Xiosphant and rival city Argelo, the city that never sleeps. Sophie, who is meek and taciturn, is thrown out into the cold night by the city's authorities, but instead of dying is saved by and makes friends with the planet's alien inhabitants. Mouth wanders the hostile planet trying to find meaning, after the death of the nomads that raised her.

I won't spoil anything from there. I'm just going to end this review of very weird but ultimately likable book by stating the thing that I liked best about it, and the thing I hated the most. The thing I liked best were the Gelet, the alien natives of January, who live on the night side, and have a really, really interesting culture and way of life. The thing that I hated the most was Bianca, Sophie's friend from college, and the person Sophie inexplicably loves the most in the world. She is extremely unlikable. Selfish. Petty. Vain. And it made me think less of Sophie the entire book that she loved Bianca so much.

Glad I read this one, will keep reading her books. She seems to like to change things up. This book was incredibly different from her first one. I'm curious to see what she comes up with next.

[3.5 stars]
Profile Image for Gabi.
698 reviews123 followers
June 24, 2019
This novel was quite different from CJA's "All the Birds in the Sky". The tone is much darker, the struggle of the protagonists much more hopeless.
I was instantly drawn towards one of the MCs, the young insecure Sophie, who's hopelessly in love with the popular Bianca and willing to give everything (sometimes even common sense) up for the wellbeing of her beloved. This YA plot is set in a human society on a tidally locked planet where human life is only possible in the small zone between the ever-dark and the always-light.

The worldbuilding and the different societies (two human and one indigenous) are well conceived. I found myself intrigued by the details the author let on. There have been nods to Ursula K. LeGuin in some reviews and I can see these societies here in a league with some of her Hainish Cycle novels. Yet the description of political and social aspects only scratch the surface. The main emphasis is on the struggle of the MCs.

Here I like how flawed they all are. There is no hero character, they do stupid and sometimes horrible things, they try and fail most of the time. Yet in contrast to other reviews I found myself caring for them (at least for some). Especially those flaws drew me to them.

I loved the first parts of the novel and I loved the last parts of the novel. The middle felt unbalanced and sometimes too rushed in the narration. Yet overall I'm a great fan of Anders' often raw and unpolished style.

This novel was definitely different and I was glad to have read it. Should there ever be a sequel (the end is open), I'll be there.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,275 reviews227 followers
February 28, 2019
Many centuries in the future a portion of humanity has colonized the tidally-locked planet of January. The colonists live on the thin band of the terminator in perpetual twilight between the searing day and the freezing night. But after centuries the climate is becoming unstable, the space between the two main human cities is becoming more hostile and the native intelligent alien species have their own agenda.

In Xiosphant, a time-regimented city of brutal oppression, Sophie's infatuation with her friend Bianca lands her in lethal trouble and an encounter with an alien. At the same time, the Resourceful Couriers arrive in Xiosphant with Mouth in tow. They're a smuggling group that travels between Xiosphant and the criminal-controlled anarchist city of Argelo and Mouth is one of them, but actually originated with a different itinerant group called the Citizens who were all killed. The situation in Xiosphant is so rigid and fragile that the presence of the Couriers is enough to destabilize the city, so Sophie, Bianca and Mouth all end up traveling from Xiosphant to Argelo with the Couriers. But Argelo is not much better, and the whole world is looking increasingly unstable.

I really appreciated this book, but didn't much enjoy it. I didn't like any of the characters much, and the only really sympathetic character (Sophie) is actually a flawed and tragic one for most of the book.

The science and sociology of it is top notch and intricate, from the farms on wheels that rotate up towards light and down to avoid the burning force of the direct sun, to the well-realized aliens and their mechanism of communication. There's also a really clever narrative trick where the author is up-front about saying that the book has been translated into English, including proper names into historic English ones, and then describing something with an Earth name (Bison, Crocodile, Lemonade) and then giving it a characteristic that is nothing like those things.

But I found the plot deeply unsatisfying and I really disliked the conclusion which felt like it cut off prior to several more necessary chapters.
Profile Image for imyril.
436 reviews62 followers
February 1, 2020
Oh dear. The pace is slow, the prose lovely - I do like the way CJA writes - but I was never won over by the protagonists (or their terrible toxic relationships) and so it felt awfully long. There was so much along the way that intrigued me, except the characters, and this is more of a character study and coming of age than a save the world from political insanity and climate apocalypse story. So much world to explore, with a considered history of two races, but this is set in a time when most of it has been forgotten, so we can’t know about it (until the end, when after the long build it feels like rushed exposition). In the end the pace frustrated and the final act felt completely out of step. This is a book that I will probably find rereads better, now I know what to expect, but I can’t imagine I’ll revisit it.

Points for originality and world design, but not for me. Or not for me at this point in time.

2.5 stars

Full review

I received a free copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Ryan.
270 reviews63 followers
May 3, 2020
Here follows an exhaustive list of the things that I enjoyed about The City in the Middle of the Night:

- It f***ing ended. Eventually.


Full review to come. Maybe.
Profile Image for Mark.
Author 58 books72 followers
January 14, 2019

Cities, Colonies, Past, Present
January 14, 2019

We dream of colonizing the stars. Or being colonized. Or simply contacting other sentient beings. We look up on a clear night and reject the ancient notion that we are all alone. We understand too much to accept that.

But some of us still insist on it and that insistence could constrain our ability to recognize realities.

Charlie Jane Anders has chosen to pursue that particular human blindness as the basis for the situation in her new novel, The City In The Middle Of The Night. Humans live on a world arrived at after long journey from Earth in a ship that is fast becoming the substance of myth. The Mothership is gone, or at least no longer responding to the humans on the surface, and generations have passed as the colony has bifurcated into two urban concentrations of strikingly different organizational style, with a lot of unaffiliated people strewn across the narrow landscape between them.

Xiosphant is a cloistered, suffocating city with rigid customs and a strict curfew. It is a walled, ceilinged city within which citizens are directed according timetables and a class structure that reminds one of the fever dreams of old East Bloc nightmares. The other city, Argelo, is more like an open-air bazaar, a libertarian paradise only with the real consequences such a free-for-all would create.

Both cities are gradually heading for collapse. Resources are running out, the ability to repair old machinery is disappearing, and the environment itself is becoming more antagonistic.

That environment…

I mentioned both cities exist on a narrow landscape. That is because the planet, January, is tidally-locked, and only a thin band between dayside and nightside is habitable. A brutal environment dominates on either side of this band. In the Night, the cold is lethal, and the Day will burn.

Anders gives us the landscape, the implications, and the inevitable social details layered together with an enviable seamlessness that sinks the reader into the world. The attention to detail never competes with the story and especially not with the characters of the two viewpoint voices.

Sophie and Mouth could not appear more different. Sophie is painfully shy, a country girl come to the city of Xiosphant to attend school. Smart but almost pathologically afraid of the world, she falls in love with her roommate, Bianca, who is everything Sophie is not—bright, glamorous, daring, ambitious. And politically daring, bringing Sophie into a world of rebelliousness which turns out to be more talk than action. Mouth, on the other hand, is a nomad, attached to a group of smugglers running between Argelo and Xiosphant, trafficking in unlicensed oddities and sought-after luxuries, anything that can be slipped by the over-regulated barriers of the encased city. Mouth is violent, taciturn, seemingly weary of the world in ways that make her appear an old, cynical survivor.

Neither of them are what they appear to be and, more, neither of them are that different. Both outsiders, both needing others to create places for them in which to feel relevant, neither of them really able to fit into their respective societies. In the end, “fitting in” is just a way of saying “self desertion.” As the story proceeds, they eventually reverse roles, Mouth becoming fearful and withdrawn, Sophie turning outward.

But outward in an unexpected way.

Sophie is arrested for a crime she did not commit but claims responsibility for in order to protect Bianca. Instead of incarceration, though, the police choose to expel her from the city, where by all rights she should die. Instead she meets one of the Crocodiles and learns that the world, January, is not at all what she and everyone else believes it to be.

When the colonists arrived, they found life forms. But instead of recognizing them as coequal sapients, the humans decided they were animals, to be hunted and feared and in some cases eradicated. The humans could not go into the Night to discover the cities. There was no shared language, nothing to suggest the possibility of coexistence. Sophie and Mouth had both come of age believing humans to be the only self-aware, tool-making creatures on the planet, and Sophie discovers suddenly that this is all a lie.,

Or an undiscovered truth.

Sophie and Bianca end up having to flee Xiosphant. Mouth is part of the group that helps them do so, because Mouth uses Bianca for something her companions know nothing about and feels obligated. Because revolution is coming to Xiosphant.

On the journey, Sophie and Mouth form an unexpected bond which becomes crucial as the reality of January reveals itself.

What Anders uses here is the historical reality of human beings assuming. Imperialists assume they are superior, people assume other species are theirs to use, civilizations assume they are always and everywhere the best. Humans arrive at January—named for Janus, the two-faced god—assuming they will dominate. Like Roanoke, like Providence Island, like Easter Island, like numberless other places humans arrived to conquer and dominate and instead had their insignificance proven to them by time, resource, terrain, disease, and their own politics, the ambitions of those first settlers have become a desperate hanging-on, fingernails shredding.

But the addition of an ecological disaster, one created inadvertently by these interlopers, has imperiled the indigenes, and some way must be found to communicate.

This is exceptional world-building and great storytelling. Anders portrays how the same characteristics that can make people exceptional are the same ones that can undo us. She seems to be warning us throughout that the danger going forward is in the assumptions we decide to bring with us and leave unquestioned.
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