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The Midnight Charter (Agora Trilogy (Hardcover (Roaring Brook Press)) Hardcover – September 1, 2009
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From School Library Journal
Grade 6–8—In the city-state of Agora (or "marketplace"), everything is for sale and all goods and services can and must be traded or bartered. Children are property until they come of age at 12, and those who are poor are sold like any other commodity. Two such children are Lily, an orphan who enters into a service contract with old Count Stelli, an astrologer. Most of Mark's family dies of the plague and his father sells him to Doctor Theophilus, son of the Count. Their lives intersect and diverge when they switch places. Lily questions the values of Agoran society and sets up a free shelter for citizens needing help. Mark is drawn in to intrigue and mystery as he becomes a prominent fortune-teller. There is a sense of darkness and danger at the heart of this society, which is embodied in the Midnight Charter, a document that predicts the coming of the Protagonist and the Antagonist, and that suggests that these two figures, possibly Mark and Lily, will alter their world forever. Whitley creates a number of memorable and full-bodied characters, along with a claustrophobic sense of a society set up as a utopia closing in on itself, and a morality that is at the extreme edge of reason. Exciting and gripping from the first heart-stopping line, this first book in a trilogy takes readers only part of the way to resolving the predictions of the Midnight Charter and its relationship to Mark and Lily. Readers will anxiously await the next installment as they reach the cliff-hanger ending.—Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City END
“Exciting and gripping from the first heart-stopping line, this first book in a trilogy takes readers only part of the way to resolving the predictions of the Midnight Charter and its relationship to Mark and Lily. Readers will anxiously await the next installment as they reach the cliff-hanger ending.” —School Library Journal
“One of the most original and creative books I've read in a long time.” —Wands and Worlds.com
“Charity, greed, freedom, fate and political scheming are all woven through debut author Whitley's richly conceived world. Readers will be buoyed by every small triumph that cannot be recorded in an account book.” —Publishers Weekly
“Whitley threads together a thrilling pageturner with the two young heroes' lives intertwining in surprising and illuminating ways.” —Shelf Awareness
“Deft world-building and crafty plotting combine for a zinger of an ending that will leave readers poised for book two. Surprisingly sophisticated upper-middle-grade fare, with enough meat to satisfy older readers as well.” —Kirkus Reviews
Top customer reviews
All of that would be fine if this were otherwise a good book. "Animal Farm" has a similarly loaded deck. So does "Fahrenheit 451". Heck, so does "Blade Runner". So the real question is how this works as a novel. (And, is it better than the real, substantial anti-corporate novels of the 40's and 50's like "What Makes Sammy Run" or "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" or "I Can Get It For You Wholesale"?)
Well, don't be fooled by the first chapter, which is very well written and which captures the reader's attention. Once the scene and the characters have been set up at the outset, nothing much else happens to develop the story or the characters, as opposed to the writer's message. All of the characters just roll on as types to illustrate the author's points.
Things get pretty random pretty fast. The hero is an astrologer, which is an odd choice for a captain of marketing and industry. Some folderol about selling bodily essences, (which I guess is a heavy-handed metaphor), moves some sup-plots forward. We get secret societies, mystical prophetic contracts, pointless violence and cartoonish plots and political intrigue. All of this is bulked out to over 300 pages, with sequels to follow. Putting a fantasy-quest layer over all of this doesn't help it cohere.
I have no idea who this book could be for. It's too sketchy, shallow and obvious to hold an adult or advanced reader's interest, and too dense and dry to appeal very much to a younger reader. Breathless blurbs and bits and pieces of a less-than-compelling mystery aren't going to save it.
While this book is labeled as dystopian on many book sites, there is no indication that this world is our future earth at all. In fact, it is almost certain to be an alternate world somewhere, unless revelations are made in the following books I would label the story as fantasy or science fantasy. Agora is a walled-in city, people are told that beyond Agora there is nothing and this is the excepted truth. Agora is run on the barter and trade system where everything is available for trade including people's emotions and people themselves. Upon ones' 12th birthday one becomes a free person and must sell themselves into service, marriage, etc. to whatever advantage this may bring. This is a society that cannot run well as since everything is available for trade, everything is only worth what someone is willing to trade for it and an artist's work can be fashionable one day, worthless the next. Keeping one's best appearance in society is very important so as not to loose favour and thus your status. Wealthy merchant one day could easily become worthless pauper the next. The book features two young 12 year old's who have gone out into the world. Mark was sold by his father to a doctor as the boy had the stone plague and the father thought he might have a chance with the doctor. Lily, an orphan, was sold to a book binder's but tossed out on her 12th birthday. Since she had been working in the astrology section she managed to secure a place for herself as servant to a well-know astrologer in the city. The doctor is the son of the astrologer and this is how they meet.
The book was a bit slow to get into, but once it got going I was quite intrigued with the unusual storyline. The two teens end up being thought as possibly the ones mentioned in an ancient prophecy, the Antagonist and the Protagonist, who will eventually either bring about the ruin of the city or prove the city's worth. Lily is obviously watched closely as she starts a charity house looking after all the poor debtors who roam the streets homeless and starving. Charity and compassion are something never heard of before in Agora and both she and the rising astrologer Mark bring great attention to themselves by the unseen Director himself.
Lily and Mark are both well-flesh, faulty characters who one likes right away. Though on opposite sides politically, they are friends and the reader roots for both of them. The story is quite compelling with certain unexpected twists and turns. The only let down is the cliff-hanger ending which leaves one anxious for the second book which fortunately at this time has already been published.