Deep beneath New York City's Grand Central Station, there is a whole other world unknown to humans. It is the world of the Avicen, a magical race of humanoids with feathers instead of hair and decidedly avian instincts and culture. The Avicen have been at war with the Drakharin, another magical race of humanoids with the instincts and attributes of dragons, for longer than either race can remember. The last major engagement between the two races took place over a hundred years ago, with regular skirmishes occurring in order to increase the number of casualties, and to decrease any sense of normality, on both sides.
Echo is human. She was brought to The Nest as a child by The Ala, the Avicen Seer and council member. While Echo has spent the majority of her life living among the Avicen, she is constantly aware that she is not one of them and is always hoping that someday they will accept her.
Echo makes her way in the Avicen culture working as a pickpocket and petty thief, stealing things from the human world where she can travel freely, and selling, trading and bartering her way through The Nest. As she is looking through an antique store in Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, hoping to find something for The Ala's birthday, Echo finds a reference to The Firebird, a mythical object or entity that is seen in both the Avicen and Drakharin cultures as being powerful enough to end their centuries' old conflict. And she begins to wonder, if Echo were to find the Firebird, and bring it to the Avicen, ending centuries of war, will they finally accept her as one of their own? Could she finally, truly belong?
In The Girl at midnight, debut author Melissa Grey introduces readers to a world of magic and adventure slightly beyond most humans’ abilities to sense it. The fantasy tropes used (young outsider making her way in another culture who is presented with a way to solve a war and, hopefully, gain acceptance) are familiar, but the Avicen and the Drakharin cultures are rich and fascinating. And Grey’s characters are interesting and nicely drawn. Most of them behave believably, but with an added verbal skill that allows them to say exactly what one would hope to say in almost any given situation, giving the dialogue a feeling from the romantic comedies of the 1940s and/or The Gilmore Girls television series. Grey also imbues the book with a nice sense of diversity. The Avicen have a wide range of hues and tones for their skin and plumage colors. The action skips across the globe to different international locations, and there is a fluidity of attractions which reflect our current reality much more closely than many fantasy novels usually do.
Grey also emphasizes the significance of taking a life, on a personal level, even if it can be justified, which is a nice change from the “disposable” casualties and “Teflon” heroes which often populate fantasy works.