Book Review: The Midnight Charter

The Midnight Charter
by David Whitley

In a world ruled by commerce, two children make a trade that will alter the course of their lives. Mark is apprenticed to a doctor, and Lily to an alchemist. When the children switch roles, a trade that is allowed in the commerce-driven society of Agora, they each set themselves on an unexpected course. Although their lives take vastly different directions, their destinies intersect, and the fate of Agora lies in the balance.

Imagine a world where trade is everything. Everything has value, and nothing can be given for free. There are no gifts (except once in your life on your title day) and charity is an unknown concept. You can’t even get directions without trading something in return. That’s the fascinating and brilliantly envisioned world that author David Whitley has created. In Agora, the only way to survive is to trade whatever you have, and if you have nothing, you trade your services and your labor. The truly desperate can even trade away emotions, which are used like a drug by those who can afford them.

The Midnight Charter is one of the most original and creative books I’ve read in a long time. David Whitley has done an amazing job of world-building. I think it’s a shame that the publisher has chosen to market this book as a morality tale of greed, because I think that diminishes what the author has done. The Midnight Charter is so much more than a morality tale; it’s a richly developed story that asks, “What if?” in the tradition of the best science fiction. Greed is only part of the equation*; The Midnight Charter* looks at the opposite and balancing forces that shape a society. It’s about the power of ideas to change a society — and the social forces that will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

The Midnight Charter is an enjoyable read. The characters are interesting and the story holds your interest and keeps you turning the pages. I read it in the car on the way back from a trip, and read it right through almost without stopping. In a few places, certain story elements aren’t as well developed as they could have been, but overall I quite enjoyed the book.

Although the book doesn’t say that it’s part of a series, at least not that I could find, the ending clearly sets things up for another book.

The Midnight Charter will be released tomorrow, September 1, 2009. Review copy provided by the publisher.