199. The Midnight Charter by David Whitley

The Midnight Charter by David Whitley (Canada) - (US)
The Agora Trilogy, Book 1

Pages: 319
Ages: 11+
Finished: Sept. 6, 2011
First Published: Sept. 22, 2009
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Genre: YA, fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

Being dead was colder than Mark had expected.

Acquired: Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Reason for Reading: I was actually under the impression the story was dystopian however the plot itself was intriguing, dystopian or not.

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.


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