Today’s book review is for Midnight City, the first book in the Conquered Earth series by J. Barton Mitchell, published by St. Martin’s Press. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, through the Goodreads First Reads program, in exchange for an honest review. The second book in the series, The Severed Tower, is scheduled to be released later this month.
Midnight City is a science-fantasy novel set in a dystopian future where aliens have conquered earth. When the aliens invaded, they were able to subdue the human population through the use of a strong telepathic signal called the Tone. However, the signal only works on people once they’ve reached adulthood. The result is that children have organized themselves into a new society, doing what they can to survive until they finally succumb to the Tone. The story follows Holt Hawkins, a loner bounty hunter, whose only companion is his dog Max. But when Holt and his target, wanted treasure hunter Mira Toombs, discover a young girl in a crashed Assembly ship, his life is turned upside down. As the three companions make their way to Midnight City, they must evade feuding alien armies, deal with pirates, and escape mutants. Meanwhile the mysterious young girl, Zoey, starts to display amazing powers that just might be the key to defeating the Assembly once and for all. Holt must decide: is he going to continue to go it alone–or will he work with his newfound companions for something greater than mere survival?
Mitchell’s debut novel starts in the middle of action and never relents. It is a fast-paced and gripping story that I didn’t want to put down. The plot and pacing were both masterfully executed. And, yet, for as much action as there is, there are some wonderfully executed characters. Not only do they feel dynamic and real, but they also grow over the course of the story. It’s nice to see that sort of development in a work that is so heavy on plot and action.
I was especially drawn in by Mitchell’s world building. I loved the empty landscapes, the crumbling remnants of civilization, and the strange new settlements built by the surviving children. I liked the descriptions of the Assembly, cloaked in spindly-legged walkers, true forms always obscured. Even the descriptions of the Strange Lands, which are never visited in the course of this novel, still pop with life and energy. This world is broad and complete–especially the descriptions of the expansive cave metropolis known as Midnight City.
This is a compelling young adult read with elements of dystopia, science fiction, and fantasy. It explores themes of alien invasion, survival, friendship, social organization, and morality, among others. Although the descriptions of the aliens were reminiscent of War of the Worlds, the overall story is refreshingly original. I give it 4 out of 5 stars for being such a strong and engaging novel. I can’t wait to read the sequel.
You can find more information about this book, including other reviews, at Goodreads.