When the Word “City” Means So Much More

“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”

Excerpt from The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders


From the publisher, “If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams… And from there, it’s easy to control our entire lives.” 

Set on a planet that has fully definitive, never-changing zones of day and night, with ensuing extreme climates of endless, frigid darkness and blinding, relentless light, humankind has somehow continued apace — through the perils outside the built cities are rife with danger as much as the streets below.

But in a world where time means only what the ruling government proclaims, and the levels of light available are artificially imposed to great consequence, lost souls and disappeared bodies are shadow-bound and savage, and as common as grains of sand. And one such pariah, sacrificed to the night, but borne up by time and a mysterious bond with an enigmatic beast, will rise to take on the entire planet–before it can crumble beneath the weight of human existence”


“Bianca is the most unusual person I have ever met.”

Excerpt from The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Hardcover 
  • 368 pages
  • Expected publication: February 12th, 2019 by Tor Books
  • ISBN0765379961 (ISBN13: 9780765379962)
  • Edition Language English

“The video cuts out. I’m left staring at empty space, feeling sorrow for a woman who died a long time ago, one way or another.”

Excerpt from The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

My Thoughts

The land bakes, or freezes depending on where you are. Human ingenuity and creativity have completely stagnated. Once cutting edge technologies ten generations ago, have now begun to fail. Cities that are separated by almost pathless land have become mythical and divided on the governance of their citizens. While political and societal upheaval shakes the foundations of the city, Xiosphanti, people begin to rage at their cog-like existence in the dying machine of their city while ecological disaster looms in the distance.

Sophie, a student from a more impoverished background, plods day to day at her wealthy school. She is attracted to Bianca, her roommate, who comes from the upper class and is in a different social stratosphere than her. This attraction shared between the two of them emboldens Sophia to take the fall for some of Bianca’s more questionable choices and this starts Sophie’s path as either a savior or her undoing.

The name Charlie Jane Anders is synonymous with excellent writing and incredible world building. Her previous works: All The Birds in the Sky, Six Months Three Days, Rick Manning Goes for Broke as well as few others have garnered her a Nebula Award for Best Novel, a Hugo award for Best Novelette as well as a smattering of others. Anders has significant science fiction writing cred. With all that being said I had gigantic hopes and excitement for this book, and sadly it fell flat for me.

There is a whole lot of good in this book. Anders is a master world builder and she created a unique world system complete with politics, races, gender identity, sociology, and a rich colonial history. She also interwove prominent environmental concerns and adaption into her world system. Ander’s has a unique approach that I appreciate as a reader. Instead of just saying, “it was blindingly hot.” She talks about environmental and architectural adaptation to a world with no definitive circadian rhythm and how that can play mary hell with humans ability to mentally rest and physically sleep.

The world bisects into light and dark. The light side is scorching and blinding while the dark side never sees the light. It has a complete lack of warmth. It reminds me a bit of that scene from “The Chronicles of Riddick” where they are trying to escape the underground prison, and as the sun starts moving across the landscape, the ground explodes from the heat. This is pretty cool when you describe an entire society based around the presence of too much or too little warmth. The impending doom of the cities due to much imperialism. To much rigid control. The reader knows that the end is coming, but not how.

Each character has a definitive voice. I never once got confused about who was talking or how they were feeling about a situation. I loved peeking into the minds of the main characters: Sophia, Bianca, and Mouth. Each viewed the world very differently and how, by the end of the book, each character has changed in their way is bittersweet. Sophia comes into her own while other characters show their true colors.

The relationships and interactions between the main characters were hard to read but ultimately became a source of strength for the writing. Bianca is a classic character of privilege. She floats through life and dabbles in politics or other things that tickle her proverbial fancy while not reaping the consequences of her actions. At the same time, Bianca abuses by Sophie. Sophie gives her a chance after chance while Bianca ultimately does not deserve her. In the end, Sophie finally sees the true Bianca and how she will never develop emotionally, nor will she see past herself or her wants and desires for something greater.

I am giving this book a lower rating because of pacing. This story is slow. So much so that I almost DNF. I kept waiting for the story to pick up and get going, and it did at about page 250 or so. But during the first 250 pages, I was waiting on any inertia to start the characters moving towards their outcomes. Ultimately the ending saved the story and tied everything together. This is an impressive character study and example of worldbuilding however the pace of the story made it very difficult to read for me.


An ARC was provided by the author in exchange for an open and honest review. Quotes are taken from an uncorrected ARC and may change upon publication.

“I let out a tiny gasp, which sounds monstrously loud to me after so long kept silent.”

Excerpt from The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

About the Author – Charlie Jane Anders

I’m the author of All the Birds in the Sky, and the forthcoming The City in the Middle of the Night. Plus a short story collection called Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, and a novella called Rock Manning Goes For Broke.

I’m probably the only person to have become a fictional character in a Star Trek novel and in one of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books.

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.

Plus much more.


  1. notcreative

    You make me want to read. Even books you give a low rating to sound so interesting when you write up your reviews. When can I read your book? I am waiting for you to write one.

    1. Beth Tabler

      That would be amazing! Maybe I will. I can set up a word count goal and go for it. I have nothing to lose. Thank you hun. You have always been so supportive of me. It means the world to me.

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