midnight charter david whitleyAgora is a city of capitalism on crack. All transactions are barter, regulated by signed and sealed contracts. An orphanage sells Lily to a bookbinder’s when she’s six years old; Mark is eleven when his father sells him for medicine. Emotions are bought and sold, as are voices. Debtors eke out miserable lives in the streets, or are thrown in jail. Largely alone in the city, Lily and Mark try to make their own ways in the complicated economy and politics of Agora.

For a book clearly intended to show the Evils of Capitalism Run Amok, it’s surprisingly light-handed. Mark and Lily are well done, and the cast of scarred humanity around them are also convincing. Everyone has responded differently to the traumas laid upon them by life and the city, clinging to addictions, a safe haven, childhood, extreme pragmatism, or extreme idealism. The writing is quite solid overall, though marred by three two-page interludes—intended, I believe, to heighten the tension and the sense that this is about more than just two kids—written in unfortunately florid prose. I think it would be better without them, but those six pages over the course of the book only annoy, they don’t detract much from the book as a whole.

It reads like the first in a trilogy, though I haven’t seen any confimation of that; it does have a complete narrative arc, but Lily and Mark’s story is clearly far from done. I’ll be interested in seeing where Whitley takes them next.

September 2009

The Midnight Charter