By Elizabeth Carlie, staff writer

girlatmidnightDragons, bird people, and a gutsy female protagonist with a smart mouth: all things you might expect to find in your typical young adult novel, but newcomer Melissa Grey’s The Girl At Midnight is anything but typical. With her lovingly crafted world full of magic and intrigue, her vividly sculpted characters, and themes that young readers can easily relate to in this beautifully wrought fantasy world, Grey has crafted a story that will set the imagination on fire.

The Girl At Midnight tells the story of seventeen year old Echo, a ward of the Avicen, a humanoid race of magical creatures with feathers for hair, ranging from the earth tones of owls to the vivid plumage of peacocks. Raised by the Ala, a wise woman among the Avicen, Echo grew up in the bosom of the Nest, a world beneath the world that exists beneath the streets of New York City. She survives by plying her trade as a thief and a pickpocket, selling her stolen treasures on the black market. She lives in a secret room within the New York Public Library, but the world of the Nest is her home, and the Avicen are her people. However, when a centuries old war with a race of dragonlike creatures called the Drakharin threatens everything she knows and loves, Echo becomes swiftly entangled in the search for a legendary creature known as the firebird. Legend has it that the power of the firebird is beyond rival, and could end the war for good, but Echo isn’t the only one looking for it. and her journey to unlock its secrets will not only change her life, but the world as she knows it forever.

Grey has done a brilliant job of building a world, with touches of everything from the Slavic myth of the firebird to the London Below of Neverwhere fame with the hidden domain of the Avicen Nest that lies hidden from prying eyes beneath New York City. The story covers a thrilling expanse of terrain that spans the globe, and ends with a twist you’ll never see coming until it’s too late. Her characters are as skillfully developed as her mythology, and Echo is an exceptional star player. Her bravery is genuine and believable, stemming from life not only as an orphan, but an outsider among the people she has adopted as her own. Her quest for the firebird and its ultimate discovery are all part of a journey all readers will connect with, and the relationships she forms with those around her are easy to become emotionally invested in. Among the cast, I found that my favorites were Tanith, a bloodthirsty Drakharin you’ll love to hate, and Echo herself, who collects words as readily as she collects fantastic little treasures.

Along with her vibrant mythos and characters, it’s also worth noting that the novel includes gay representation with two delightful characters: the Avicen scoundrel Jasper and the Drakharin royal guard, Dorian. Being that the book is geared towards young adults, it’s an important facet of a compelling story that offers younger readers a chance to see themselves in the media without calling undue attention to itself. As a stand alone component, the budding romance between these two men is enchanting to read.

The Girl At Midnight is published by Delcorte Press, and hits the shelves April 28th.

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