“May I have my wallet back?” It wasn’t a wallet, not really. In place of money, it held a fine black powder that hummed with energy in the Ala’s hand, but the girl didn’t need to know that.
The thief looked up at her. “Why do you have feathers?”
“My wallet, please.”
The girl did not budge. “Why are you wearing sunglasses inside?”
The girl looked at the small purse in her hand, seemed to consider it for a moment, then looked back at the Ala. Still she didn’t relinquish the item in question. “Why are you wearing a scarf? It’s June.”
“You’re very curious for a little girl,” the Ala said. “And it’s midnight. You aren’t supposed to be here.”
Without a moment’s hesitation, the thief replied, “Neither are you.”
The Ala couldn’t not smile. “Touché.”
The Ala finds a child in the library, alone, and ends up taking her in. There’s only one complication: the Ala is an Avicen elder, with feathers in place of hair, but the girl is human. Echo grows up in Avicen society: it’s the only proper home she’s ever known, but her status as an outsider shades every experience of her childhood. After the prologue (from which I took the above quote), we next meet Echo as a teenager, hanging out with her two best friends. Ivy and Rowan have clearly been a huge part of her life, and the latter has recently evoloved into a tentative boyfriend, and it’s against the backdrop of their shifting three-way friendship that the story unfolds.
At the heart of the plot is the legend of the firebird, a mythical beast which is prophesied to bring an end to the centuries-long war between the Avicen and Drakharin races. It isn’t really taken seriously, until Echo happens across a hidden map that leads her into an extensive treasure trail.
It took a few chapters for things to really get going, but the chapters are short, and the overall pace is relentless (in a good way). Once Echo sets off on her mission, she and her friends barely slow down for long enough for their wounds to heal between battles, and towards the end I was struggling to put the book down.
I was also sobbing buckets. Seriously: I’m accustomed to having to subtly dab away the odd tear, but I got to the stage that I couldn’t read this book in public for fear someone would interrupt my reading to check I was okay.
Echo starts off as a fairly bratty, cocky teen. She’s an accomplished thief with the ability to hop across the world through a series of magical gateways, so it’s not like her arrogance is completely unfounded, but she doesn’t begin as the most sympathetic character. And when it becomes clear that the Ala is putting the fate of their world in her hands, I’ll confess I was a bit worried about whether she would really be up to the task.
The friendships that she forms along the way are a huge part of Echo’s story, as she gathers a small and unconventional crew of outlaws and exiles from both Avicen and Drakharin communities. I also loved the way the relationships developed between subsidiary characters. I don’t want to spoil any of the subtle, charming characterisation, but I utterly loved it all: the gradual growth of trust, the fragile friendships, the budding romances. These were the scenes that had me reaching for my handkerchief.
The Girl At Midnight is the first in a series, something I didn’t realise until I was fast approaching the end; I really can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.