The Girl at Midnight by Melissa Grey (The Girl at Midnight #1)
Beneath the streets of New York City live the Avicen, an ancient race of people with feathers for hair and magic running through their veins. Age-old enchantments keep them hidden from humans. All but one. Echo is a runaway pickpocket who survives by selling stolen treasures on the black market, and the Avicen are the only family she's ever known.
Echo is clever and daring, and at times she can be brash, but above all else she's fiercely loyal. So when a centuries-old war crests on the borders of her home, she decides it's time to act.
Legend has it that there is a way to end the conflict once and for all: find the Firebird, a mythical entity believed to possess power the likes of which the world has never seen. It will be no easy task, though if life as a thief has taught Echo anything, it's how to hunt down what she wants . . . and how to take it.
But some jobs aren't as straightforward as they seem. And this one might just set the world on fire.
TITLE: The Girl at Midnight
AUTHOR: Melissa Grey with Julia Whelan (Narrator)
PUBLISHER: Listening Library
LENGTH: 357 pages (9 hours 56 minutes)
AGE: Young Adult
Queer Rep Summary: Gay/Achillean Main Character(s), Bi/Pan Secondary Character(s).
The worldbuilding is light on details, focusing on a few key mechanics (such as the powder that lets Echo turn doorways into portals), a little bit of the Avicen social structure, and the library where Echo lives. Where it dwells is in descriptions of interactions between the characters, coupled with their internal struggles. That there is a war between the Avicen and the Drakharin, one which has gone on for a long time and taken many lives, that is enough for now, but I do hope the sequels have more background detail.
Dorian has one eye, having lost the other by knife in a previous fight. What gradually frustrated me is how often his one-eyed status is brought up in connection with some unrelated negative trait, whether real or imagined. He tortured one of the other characters before they ended up working together, so it's completely understandable that he wouldn't be seen in a positive light and he's in a redemption arc. However, those extremely valid reasons to highlight any of his negative attributes kept being paired in the text with mentions of his disability. It's not a huge thing, but making the villain be the character missing an eye or with some other visible disfigurement is such a longstanding ableist trope that it's frustrating to see echoes of it here, even if dimly. I do understand that's he's not a villain by about halfway through, but he begins the book in the position of villain to Echo and her Avicen friend, Ivy, by being part of Ivy's torture in Drakharin hands.
The main storyline involves Echo following clues left behind in a series of objects which turn out to be relevant to one of the other characters. From there it's a lot of running and pining, long on vibes and short on plot (in an enjoyable way). I like how Echo collects words from different languages in order to say a single word to encapsulate some complicated feeling or circumstance. It blends well with her genre-savviness and tendency to reference the many things she read while living in a library.
The chain of requited and unrequited romantic interest between the five main characters (and Echo's quickly sidelined sort-of-boyfriend) is delightfully messy, beginning to explore possible configurations among the main cast before they've even become a group. Echo and Caius are drawn together pretty quickly (for backstory reasons that end up paying off later), to the disappointment of Dorian who has been quietly pining for Caius for years. Luckily, someone else becomes interested in Dorian, and I'm especially looking forward to that playing out more in the next book. I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that Echo is seventeen and Caius is around two hundred years old, with his previous relationship taking place a century ago. Dorian is of a similar age as Caius.
The ending is fine, though a bit abrupt. I'm glad this is the first of a trilogy because it does a lot of work to set up these characters and I'm interested in what they'll do next.
Graphic/Explicit CW for xenophobia, blood, fire/fire injury, torture, murder, death.
Moderate CW for grief, ableism, cursing, adult/minor relationship, kidnapping, confinement, violence, war, suicide.
Minor CW for sexual content, drug use, alcoholism, vomit.