When someone has a bad day, they’re usually comforted by the thought that it’s just one day, and tomorrow is a chance to start fresh. But, what happens when you have a bad day, only to wake up to the same bad day, over and over again? In Midnight Strikes by Zeba Shahnaz, 17-year-old Anaïs finds herself in this exact situation, living through her own personal hell on repeat until she can figure out a way to break her mysterious curse.
Growing up in her small countryside hometown of Massilie, Anaïs was raised to have one goal in mind: to marry a suitor who can help raise her family’s social status. 400 years prior, the Cardona family became monarchs of the Ivarean Kingdom, and those who once ruled the land became seen as scum, unworthy of even being acknowledged as “true Ivareans.” Anaïs is Proensan, blessed with a blood magic unique to her kind, but that did nothing but ostracize her further from the reigning royalty of the kingdom.
Preparing for the coveted Anniversary Ball, Anaïs and her parents travel to the capital city of Marenca in hopes of striking a marriage deal during the festivities. Begrudgingly, the young girl goes through the motions of greeting the elites and dancing with various bachelors who mock her even as they sway together on the dance floor. She then encounters Infante Leopoldo Cardona, or Leo, the youngest of the king’s three children. Having met previously at another event, the two dance together before escaping to explore a garden on the grounds. Upon returning to the ballroom, the clock strikes midnight, and the palace begins shaking from explosions, much to their horror. The last thing Anaïs sees is Leo dying in her arms, before she perishes herself, and unknowingly begins her cursed cycle.
Weaving in various types of magic, love, and self-discovery all in one story, Shahnaz’s debut novel is an all-encompassing young adult novel. Her attention to detail and organization made the time loops engaging and easy to follow. Each time loop is represented by a chapter, signaling clues throughout the book and encouraging readers to figure out the origin of the curse together with Anaïs. Despite the other characters resetting their memory with each loop, Anaïs remembers everything, carrying a heavy burden and re-living her traumatic evening endlessly. Facing her death and analyzing the incidents of the day, Anaïs matures and grows significantly in the unknown amount of time it took her to wake up to a new day.
Unlike a fairytale, the ending is by no means perfect for Anaïs. Instead, there are regrets and wishes to loop back to fix things differently, with Anaïs feeling responsible for all that’s happened and doubtful that she made the right calls. Seeing these emotions of uncertainty makes the story more relatable, showing that life and the world can never be perfect, even when you can go back in time. A factor that may deter people from reading time loop stories can be the length of the piece. Some of these stories can be too short, running out of compelling scenarios after a few loops, and some can drag on too long, with too many loops consisting of outrageous happenings. Midnight Strikes, however, is the perfect length for a quick binge read, with just enough time loops to make it interesting and drive the story forward. With each loop holding something new, the book keeps readers invested through the end. Upon finishing Shahnaz’s strong debut novel, the first thought that comes to mind is the hope for a sequel.