A magical, sapphic fantasy that will have you cheering for the villains.
This is a monster story, but with a twist; the story is told from the point of view of the monsters. This Young Adult Fantasy toys with the concept of heroes and villains, upending the reader’s typical desire for good to defeat evil. While this may seem like a risky move for an author, Alicia Jasinska weaves literal magic with a story that will make readers cheer for the villains.
Marynka and Zosia both have their sights set on a single goal: to cut out the prince’s heart. Marynka, longing for love and approval that is always out of reach, intends to give it to her mistress as ordered, while Zosia, desperate for power and freedom, wants to take the heart for herself. The girls are drawn to each other until they realise they are rivals, and an epic contest begins as they each take greater risks in an attempt to kill the prince, while at the same time battling with their attraction to each other.
The coming-of-age and self-discovery themes come through strongly throughout this story as the girls battle with each other and with their own desires. From the beginning the characters draw you to root for them despite their many flaws. They have such humanity and such strong desires that you want them to get it. Jasinska masterfully walks the line here, giving her characters flaws and selfish desires without making them unlikeable.
The setting is a stunning winter “karnawal” landscape, perfect for magic and shapeshifting girls, with many elements based on Poland and Polish history (as mentioned in the Author’s Note). Along with the locational setting, the culture is refreshingly diverse, with same-sex couples normalised and widespread. It’s great to see a culture with these themes prominent and a natural part of the culture, instead of the extreme patriarchy that many fantasy stories employ.
The Midnight Girls is a magical, inclusive tale. Although the story did have a satisfying conclusion, there was enough left open to wonder whether there may be a sequel or follow-up story in the future. I hope so—the world needs more monster girls to cheer for.
Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff
This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.
Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: November 2021