Release date: 14th March 2023
Read: 11th March 2023 – 12th March 2023
Genre: YA Fantasy
Rep: biracial bisexual side character, brown sapphic side character, side f/f relationship
CW: on page death (including of family members and of main character), suicide, murder, explosions & fire, violence, gun violence, racism & bigotry, referenced colonialism, bullying, reference to bestiality, referenced torture, alcohol consumption
In this explosive fantasy debut with a time-loop twist, a provincial girl must work with a roguish prince to stop an attack on the royal family and escape a nightmarish curse that forces them to relive the same night again and again.
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.
I had a lot of fun putting this playlist together! There are some songs in here that I always find myself associating with time loop stories, as well as some that feel a bit more specific to this book in particular!
- Social Climb – I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME
- Up In Flames – Icon For Hire
- again&again – Against The Current feat. guardin
- deathwish – Stand Atlantic feat. nothing,nowhere
- This Is Why – Paramore
- Rerun – Honey Revenge
- CITADEL – Banshee
- Labyrinth – Taylor Swift
- Deja Vu – Dreamcatcher
- i’ll die anyway. – girl in red
- Determination – Toby Fox
When a series of bombs go off at the kingdom’s anniversary ball, Anaïs, along with everyone else in attendance, is killed. Then she wakes up a few hours earlier. Nobody else remembers what happened, or knows what’s going to happen. Unless she wants to be stuck in an unending loop of death and destruction for the rest of eternity, she needs to figure out who’s behind this attack and stop them before they can kill her, and the rest of the court, all over again.
I liked Anaïs! She starts the story as a reluctant ball attendee, being pressured by her parents into finding a husband despite knowing that nobody there wants to marry her and she doesn’t want to marry anybody there. Her initial reaction to being caught in the loop, and all her initial floundering, was very believable, as was the progression of what she found herself willing to do in order to try and break it. I really liked how she developed over the course of the story. I enjoyed seeing her building desperation to find a way out, her growing willingness to do increasingly audacious and at times deplorable things to try stopping the explosions, and her determination to find the right solution to the whole situation. As will be familiar from other well known time loop stories, being stuck in a time loop brought out the best version of herself, as well as maybe some elements of the worst version of herself.
The story does get dark, and a decent amount of this darkness stems from the fact that the loop is triggered by Anaïs’ death. If she wants to try the night again, she has to die. There were some loops that she may well have survived if she’d prioritised herself above all else, but the destruction and death toll aside from her was so high that she wanted to try again anyway, and that meant she had to find a way to die. Deliberately dying over and over in order to save the lives of others isn’t something that many people would be able to bring themselves to do, and it speaks volumes about Anaïs that she chose to help rather than run even though it would cost her like this.
Prince Leo was a really interesting character! Half the time he’s playing the role of the drunken younger prince with no responsibilities to speak of, but it becomes apparent that this is largely an act and a defence mechanism. He believes Anaïs more often than he doesn’t, which was a relief. Being stuck in a time loop is such a weird thing to lie about that if someone claims to be in one it’s always a better idea to believe them and skip the hassle, and he mostly does this well. The moment he’s given some kind of purpose for himself he drops all the acts and shows himself to be intelligent, down to earth, and at times downright heroic.
The development of the relationship between Leo and Anaïs is an interesting one. Leo doesn’t remember the loops, and so doesn’t remember Anaïs, so the most he can feel for her at the end of any given night is respect and maybe a crush. At no point is he in love with her. In contrast, Anaïs has a very long time to get to know Leo. I thought the jump between her realising that Leo was someone she could trust to her being in love with him was very quick and I wasn’t wholly convinced by it. However, I really liked how their relationship was written after this point! With every loop she’s not just giving up another chance at her own survival, but she’s giving up whatever dynamic she and Leo have managed to build that time around. She knows him, and she loves him, and she also knows that as long as the loops continue he’s never going to feel the same way about her. That’s something she just has to accept. There’s nothing she can do about it. This disconnect and mismatch in relationships is something that hits hard in time loop stories, and this was no exception. It’s tragic, and that’s the whole point.
In general, the emotions of Anaïs’ loop were well executed. Aside from the things I’ve already touched on, such as the growing disconnect in her relationships and her growing desperation and willingness to do things she ordinarily wouldn’t dream of, another thing this book addresses about the loops is the possibility of Anaïs getting so caught up in them that she deliberately and unnecessarily keeps herself in them indefinitely. If you theoretically have the power to manipulate events so they go exactly how you want them to go, at what point do you stop? At what point do you say you’ve done enough and let time resume its proper course? I thought the eventual resolution was an interesting one, and it’s one that I ultimately fall on the side of liking.
There’s an attempt at an anti-colonial message in here, but it felt incomplete to me. It didn’t quite land.
The reason why I wanted to read this book in the first place is very simple: I love stories involving time loops. If I had to list out my top five pieces of media across all formats, three of those five involve time loops. I LOVE time loops. And, because I love time loops, I have high standards for them. A big part of what makes them so cool is the butterfly effect of it all, the only things that should be changing from loop to loop should be changing as a direct result of the actions of the person(s) at the centre of the loop. Unfortunately, this book emphatically doesn’t tick that box. I was convinced for a solid chunk of the book that Leo could remember the loops as well because he kept acting so drastically differently from loop to loop for no reason that him remembering the prior attempts was the most reasonable explanation. But no, he didn’t remember anything. He wasn’t the only one acting differently across loops with no explanation but it was most noticeable with him. If you’re not already a big lover of time loops then this might not bother you so much, but I am and it bothered me enough that I honestly nearly dnf’d the book over it. If the loops aren’t rewinding time but are putting her in slightly different alternate universes then just say that, y’know? That would be fine. But she never even considers the possibility. I fully acknowledge that this is a me problem lmao, as I said I have very high standards.
If you’re looking for a unique take on a glittering court fantasy with darker elements then you’ll probably enjoy this one! If you’re looking for a well executed time loop story then you might find that here, depending on how high your standards are and what your priorities are for them. It definitely hits on the emotions of a time loop, and that’s arguably the more important thing.
Thank you to Delacorte Press, NetGalley, and TBR and Beyond Tours for having me on this tour! You can find the full schedule here or by clicking on the banner at the top of this post.
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About the Author
Zeba Shahnaz writes fantasy full of political intrigue, twisted romance, and a healthy dose of existential angst. A proud Pakistani-American, she translated her love of storytelling into a graduate degree analysing national identity, culture, and cinema in South Asia. She grew up in New Jersey,which she has yet to fully escape (though not because of a time loop). MIDNIGHT STRIKES is her debut novel.
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About the Blogger
El is in their early 20s, from the UK, and they love to read and love talking about what they read. They particularly like fantasy and books featuring lgbtq+ main characters.