Book: “The Midnight Girls” by Alicia Jasinska
Publishing Info: Sourcebooks Fire, December 2021
Where Did I Get this Book: NetGalley
Book Description: It’s Karnawał season in the snow-cloaked Kingdom of Lechija, and from now until midnight when the church bells ring an end to Devil’s Tuesday time will be marked with wintry balls and glittery disguises, cavalcades of nightly torch-lit “kuligi” sleigh-parties.
Unbeknownst to the oblivious merrymakers, two monsters join the fun, descending upon the royal city of Warszów in the guise of two innocent girls. Newfound friends and polar opposites, Zosia and Marynka seem destined to have a friendship that’s stronger even than magic. But that’s put to the test when they realize they both have their sights set on Lechija’s pure-hearted prince. A pure heart contains immeasurable power and Marynka plans to bring the prince’s back to her grandmother in order to prove herself. While Zosia is determined to take his heart and its power for her own.
When neither will sacrifice their ambitions for the other, the festivities spiral into a wild contest with both girls vying to keep the hapless prince out of the other’s wicked grasp. But this isn’t some remote forest village, where a hint of stray magic might go unnoticed, Warszów is the icy capital of a kingdom that enjoys watching monsters burn, and if Zosia and Marynka’s innocent disguises continue to slip, their escalating rivalry might cost them not just the love they might have for each other, but both their lives.
Review: I love this cover artist (looked up, her name is Charlie Bowater)! Whenever I see a cover by her, the book seems to immediately climb up my TBR pile. It doesn’t hurt that this seemed like the perfect wintery/Christmas fantasy story that gives off hints of “The Night Circus” with its story of dueling sorcerers. And luckily the whole “fighting for the heart of a prince” thing seems like it is just a clever ruse for the true romance at the heart of the story.
Two powerful women find their new friendship quickly put to the test when they discover they each are after the same prize: the pure heart of the young, hapless prince. But nothing is what it seems, and this heart isn’t sought for such soft things like love. No, instead Zosia and Marynka each want the rare power that comes from a heart so pure. As their magical competition grows, so too does the risk they each take in being discovered, for magic is feared and persecuted. But Zosia and Marnka are both discovering that as equal as their determination is to win the prince’s heart, so too may be their growing attraction.
This was a bit of a tough read for me. Mostly because I definitely didn’t dislike it, but I also struggled to really get through it for some reason. There was a lot to like here, but it just didn’t seem to land right. One of the things I liked the most was the story’s roots in Polish culture and fairytales. The descriptions of the town, the fables and legends seen in the festivals, and the food were all lovely and refreshing. I also particularly liked the fact that it was set in winter during a winter festival, a time of year and setting that one doesn’t often see in fantasy stories. There’s definitely something uniquely cozy about reading books featuring others dealing with the winter weather while you are snuggled up in a blanket with hot tea.
I also didn’t mind the two POV characters. But again, I just didn’t mind them. This was another duel POV story, and while I didn’t have a strong preference for one POV over another (usually my problem with this format of storytelling), they also simply read as very similar voices. They each had unique goals and approaches to their task of winning the prince’s heart, but if you plopped med own into a random chapter, it would take some mention of these fact for me to know whose head I was in. The writing was fine for both of them, just not particularly strong overall.
I also struggled with the pacing of the story. I felt like it not only started out rather slowly, it all wrapped up quite quickly in the end. Things fell together much too easily and, overall, the plot seemed to rely far to heavily on the romance to carry the reader through. It wasn’t a huge problem, and I’m sure most readers will be there for the romance mainly anyways, but it did feel a bit rushed and a bit of a let down. Overall, however, I think this book will appeal to readers looking for a wlw fantasy story to c0zy up with this winter!
Rating 7: A fairly middling story in itself, but a sweet fantasy love story that will still likely appeal to many who are looking for a romantic read for the winter season.