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The City in the Middle of the Night

Written by: Charlie Jane Anders
Length: 13 hrs and 56 mins
4 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"If you control our sleep, then you can own our dreams.... And from there, it's easy to control our entire lives." 

January is a dying planet - divided between a permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other. Humanity clings to life, spread across two archaic cities built in the sliver of habitable dusk. 

But life inside the cities is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside. 

Sophie, a student and reluctant revolutionary, is supposed to be dead, after being exiled into the night. Saved only by forming an unusual bond with the enigmatic beasts who roam the ice, Sophie vows to stay hidden from the world, hoping she can heal. 

But fate has other plans - and Sophie's ensuing odyssey and the ragtag family she finds will change the entire world.  

©2019 Charlie Jane Anders (P)2019 Recorded Books

What the critics say

"An even stronger novel than Anders’ Nebula Award-winning All the Birds in the Sky; a tale that can stand beside such enduring works as Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Dan Simmons’ Hyperion." (Booklist, starred review)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Visionary

The work of an incredible imagination, with many-layered, relevant themes. I haven't seen enough good sci-fi that is also filled with vivid emotions and characters. Compared to "All the Birds In the Sky," I think this one is more "telly" - there are long passages telling you in the abstract about characters' feelings and motivations, instead of characterizing them through actions. But if you're like me, you'll find the prose poetic enough that you won't mind too much. If a moment feels cliche, press on, it doesn't turn out how you think.

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    4 out of 5 stars

Really interesting world but very abrupt ending

Hard science fiction but focused primarily around three characters, so the science is more of a background than the primary focus. On a future colony world that will be settled by Earth descendents, daylight and night are so extreme that the full light of day literally sets crops on fire. Cities have to be carefully shuttered and crops shaded in order to survive. The world is clearly at least several generations post-settlement and much of their ancestors' original equipment is breaking down, while weather changes to the planet cause additional problems.

In between the strictly regimented city Xiosphant and the criminal-controlled city Argel, the plot follows a pair of friends, Sophie and Bianca, and a smuggler, Mouth. Sophie tells her part of the story in first person, so is clearly the 'main' character, and when she is thrown out of Xiosphant into the Night to die, she discovers that one of the native alien races (the "crocodiles") are actually sapient. If there is a fourth main character in the book, it's the crocodiles; through Sophie, they try to communicate with the humans to explain that human actions are what's destroying the planet and causing the devastating weather changes, as well as causing huge suffering and death to the crocodile population.

Sophie, however, is both powerless and rather easily distracted, mainly by Bianca, who she adores for reasons that become less and less easy to sympathize with. Bianca, a privileged rich girl from the upper class section of Xiosphant, initially appears to be a good friend to Sophie but through the course of the book becomes more and more selfish and closed-minded, to the point it rapidly becomes very frustrating watching Sophie continue to trust and follow her.

Mouth is probably the most interesting character in the book. Initially she's fairly unlikeable, but as you learn more about her background and what she's suffered, and as she grows to be a better character, she becomes more and more sympathetic.

Ultimately Sophie, with the help of Mouth, attempt to initiate communication between the crocodiles and the human settlers. And at this point, the book ends very abruptly, without a satisfactory conclusion or a clear indication of what the outcome will be.

Overall, the book was very interesting; I really liked the alien world; the crocodiles were a great species; the society and politics were interesting; and the book was well written. However, the ending was a let down and felt as if it cut short several chapters too soon. I am guessing there's a sequel planned? But I'm not a fan of leaving a book unsatisfactorily short, even if it does have a sequel coming.

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  • Michael J. Mcmorrow
  • 2019-02-17

One of the best S-F novels I've ever read!!!

Over the past 60 years, I have read somewhere between 500 and 1,000 science fiction novels. I'm trying to think of the novels that have been better than this one. The only ones that come to mind are the I Robot series and City. This novel is unlike any others that I've ever read. The author has a wonderful imagination and her writing is impeccable. Unfortunately, it ends without ending. Like so many science fiction novels written recently, it seems like a Book 2 is in the works. I certainly hope so.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrea Duff
  • 2019-03-22

Pass

I really enjoy this author and her narrative style. She put a lot into world building and relationship arcs that I appreciate. She takes a lot of consideration with language development, power and gender dynamics and it shows. However, this book just fell flat. I was well into part 4 and just accepted I couldn't get through the whole thing. The plot wasn't getting any better and it was time to call it a loss. I don't think it's a complete waste of time. I just felt that the story was underdeveloped. There was no drive to invest in what happened with the characters after getting through a few chapters. There are a lot of admirable creative aspects here, the application just fell short.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Platypus Man
  • 2019-03-03

Truly Alien Science Fiction

There's a lot of science fiction out there and I can't claim to have read all of it. But in my experience most of what I read or see either takes a lot from real life or other works, but "The City in the Middle of the Night" felt refreshingly new, sometimes in ways that pointed out things I didn't even realize I was taking for granted. It feels truly "alien" in a very good way.

An indeterminate amount of time in the future, humanity took to the stars and colonized a planet called January. Being tidally locked to its sun, one side is always day and the other is always night. Right on the border between the two is where people have somehow figured out how to live, but that also means that there is no movement of the sun to indicate the passage of time. Other life lives there and while the humans have given them names like "crocodiles", they resemble nothing like what's on Earth. Picking up generations later where very little of life before January is remembered and the technology that brought them there and that is keeping them alive starts to break down, the book focuses on two very different outcast women, Sophie and Mouth, and how they learn, love, and grow on this harsh planet.

Without giving too much of the plot away, a lot of effort was clearly put by author Charlie Jane Anders into making January feel like a realistic place that could, in desperate times, be where people choose to live. As January has no visible passage of time, the book ends up indicating no passage of time that the reader can recognize. This means that it is intentionally unclear how much time has passed during most parts of the book - the characters' ages are unknown and the events of the book can take anywhere from a few months to several years. This may sound annoying, but as an intentional choice I believe it adds to the alien nature of January (and the name "January" furthers the idea that it's stuck in time). And two different cities are focused on, one that makes its own time and forces all residents to follow routine and another that is anarchy in comparison, everything happening all at once. And each city also has its own language that is similarly structured, further adding to the world-building. And of course the aliens themselves, once explored in some real detail, are truly unlike anything I've seen or read elsewhere.

Anders also does a good job of creating characters to live in this world that 1) feel like they legitimately live here but also 2) feel very relatable in terms of how they feel and behave. Sophie's and Mouth's emotional attachments make up a huge part of the book and often act to further the plot, but without the book simply feeling like it's just about the trials of their hearts (or without feeling like either of them or their problems are the same as the other). I personally wasn't able to relate overly much to either of them, but I don't feel like that took anything away from their stories. And by the time the book is at its completion, it has taken some seriously strange and very interesting twists and turns, though nothing that feels unearned - one part I thought would be a bigger focus of the plot (and in a different situation could have made an entire book itself), but that it was more or less glossed over was actually quite appropriate for the character.

The book is narrated by Jennifer O'Donnell and Laura Knight Keating, with Keating taking Sophie's first-person, present-tense chapters and O'Donnell taking Mouth's third-person, past tense chapters. The different narrations add to the differences between the characters and while it could have easily been done by a single narrator, giving the two women different physical voices was a nice touch, with each voice doing a good job of matching their respective characters. There are a few minor pronunciation differences between the two, but nothing that I think hurts the book.

Anders has said that this is a standalone novel and while I believe you could tell plenty more stories on January, I'm fine seeing it go. If her next novel has the same world-building, attention to detail, and realistic characters I'll be sure to check it out.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Stephanie Leahy
  • 2019-03-03

Definitely returning this.

Short review: Story tries to get you involved in a political drama, but the real story is the native aliens trying to fix the planet. Plot has holes out the wazoo. Sophie is the main character, but has the personality of a piece of chalk. Story ends without any sort of resolution to anything. Neither of the narrators gave any emotional depth to anything, which is a first for me.

Long review: When you finally give in and try to follow the political story, the climax ends up happening off-screen. And then you are waiting for the real climax, of the lazily written alien-transformation-terraforming-tentacle vision story, and just when you think you're getting somewhere, the book ends. I don't know if there's a second book. I hope not.
Everyone in the book loves the main character, Sophie, but the story gives us no reason to. She's silent almost the entire story. After their harrowing journey across the Sea of Murder, Alyssa is apparently "dying to see her (Sophie) again" and "misses her so much", even though the two characters don't so much as look at each other the entire way. Mouth and Alyssa's stories are WAY more interesting (honestly, the book should be about Mouth). Author doesn't even bother to describe Sophie physically until halfway through the book.
The possibility of some LGBT representation in this book intrigued me, but ended up being just a tool to keep the main character blind to how awful her "love interest" is. (Sorry, but no one is that stupid. Bianca is either a psychopath, or just trash.)
When her affections are finally revealed, the reaction is typical YA "monster!!" "unnatural!!" "disgusting and perverted!!" bull****. What a letdown.
There are so many better sci-fy/fantasy books out there that use this style of world building, have excellent character development, and have actual wlw/mlm/bi/trans/poly inclusion, if that's what you're looking for. I HIGHLY suggest the "Broken Earth" series, which has all of these things.

4 of 6 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-05-24

Fantastic!

Best book I’ve read all year. “The City in The Middle of The Night” is a deeply powerful and emotional journey through the best imagery science fiction has to offer. I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

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  • Eddie
  • 2019-05-15

absolutely breathtaking

please read this book. or listen to it. it's the only time I've actually felt breathless in a positive way. the narrators here are both incredible.

this is a work of art.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Michael S
  • 2019-04-11

Disappointing Experience

I kept waiting for the story to do something interesting. I finished it thirty minutes ago and am still waiting for something to happen.
The audio voices were good for the main character, but flat on the rest. The voices for men are like bad henchmen from children’s shows.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-04-06

I loved her writing. It is absolutely beautiful.

The story was engaging and the characters well developed. Her descriptions of the landscapes were particularly good. She could write well for any genre.

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  • Maddy Avena
  • 2019-03-12

Charlie Jane Anders, you have ruined me!

I can’t listen to anything else. I can’t read anything else. I finished the audiobook about a week ago and I still hear the characters’s voices in my head and still have that “pull” on my psyche to go back into this incredibly well crafted world. I miss Sophie most of all and want to know What Happens Next to her and her evolution as a being.
Both narrators were flawless especially Sophie’s who so poignantly expresses the unrequited love she has for Bianca until she finally chooses differently. I think most of us have had a Bianca. This made such a stark juxtaposition between one of the most basic human dysfunctions and the society and people native to the planet that the human space travelers have claimed as their new home.
The topics of culture, politics and religion were handled with a deft and true hand. The world building was amazing. I could see this so very alien landscape so clearly.
I’ll get over my terrible longing for more. I will fall at least in like with another audiobook soon, but geez! I am ensorcled still and can’t wait for her next book.

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  • A Reader
  • 2019-02-24

Parts I really liked

Overall I didn't love this book but there were parts I really liked and the planet itself was very interesting. Mostly I felt that I didn't understand the connection between Sophie and Bianca and what actually kept Sophie coming back to that friendship.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful