Review: Midnight Strikes

The title is in gold. There is a golden frame with a gold vine winding around it. There is a clock or something like it at the top. The bottom of the frame has a sword and an open fan.Title: Midnight Strikes
Author: Zeba Shahnaz
Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 448
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Review Copy: Received eARC via NetGalley
Availability: Available now

Summary: Seventeen-year-old Anaïs just wants tonight to end. As an outsider at the kingdom’s glittering anniversary ball, she has no desire to rub shoulders with the nation’s most eligible (and pompous) bachelors—especially not the notoriously roguish Prince Leo. But at the stroke of midnight, an explosion rips through the palace, killing everyone in its path. Including her.

The last thing Anaïs sees is fire, smoke, chaos . . . and then she wakes up in her bedroom, hours before the ball. No one else remembers the deadly attack or believes her warnings of disaster.

Not even when it happens again. And again. And again.

If she’s going to escape this nightmarish time loop, Anaïs must take control of her own fate and stop the attack before it happens. But the court’s gilded surface belies a rotten core, full of restless nobles grabbing at power, discontented commoners itching for revolution, and even royals who secretly dream of taking the throne. It’s up to Anaïs to untangle these knots of deadly deceptions . . . if she can survive past midnight.

Review: [MIDNIGHT STRIKES is a time loop book, so there is a lot of violence and death for basically everyone, including references to Anaïs intentionally dying to reset the loop or requesting others kill her. Racism and colonialism are frequent topics as well.]

MIDNIGHT STRIKES is an immensely satisfying read. I love time loop plots but am also pretty picky about them—it takes a deft hand to keep the iterations of a time loop from getting boring or too predictable. Author Zeba Shahnaz did a fantastic job of deciding what to repeat, what to gloss over, and what to advance each time Anaïs woke up and had a new chance to figure out what was going on. It certainly helps that there is a lot that Anaïs needs to figure out, including why she’s even caught in the time loop in the first place. Anaïs would track down one plot thread, find out new information, recontextualize previous events, and then use that to follow a different thread further down its track. MIDNIGHT STRIKES is a truly well-crafted story in that regard.

And of course, what makes plot even better are great characters. Anaïs is an interesting narrator, and I appreciated her complexity. Being unhappy about the necessity of a political marriage is a fairly standard trope, but the layers Shahnaz added on to that really deepened both Anaïs’s character and the world building. I also appreciated that Anaïs wasn’t always positive and hopeful about being able to end the time loop—she had her rage and hopelessness and denial time loops, more than once. She did terrible things, often multiple times, and those decisions haunted her across the loops. I loved it.

The information Anaïs gets from each loop and the decisions she makes help her dig deeper into the people around her, which allowed some characters to gain depth instead of remaining shallow extras repeating the same things endlessly. Prince Leo is the most notable example, of course, and I found myself really enjoying the way Anaïs’s relationship with him changed over the course of the book. Due to the shortness of the loop and the limited locations, the number of characters who could gain depth was limited, but it still made for some very fun and satisfying character interactions in conjunction with the world building and mystery solving.

Recommendation: Get it now, especially if you’re a fan of time loops. MIDNIGHT STRIKES takes the grand spectacle of a ball and turns it into a nightmare, and then traps our main character there. Author Zeba Shahnaz did a fantastic job of varying the time loops and allowing Anaïs to claw her way towards answers regarding the explosion and why she was caught in the loop. I had such a fun time reading it and was immensely satisfied by how the story concluded.