Reviews provided by Syndetics
Publishers Weekly Review
In the walled city of Agora, residents literally live or die based on their worth. Everything is traded, from goods and services to lives-even emotions can be bottled and sold-all bound in contracts ("Everyone makes their way by bartering something, for there is always someone who will trade"). Just shy of his 12th birthday, Mark is sold by his father to Dr. Theophilus, who is researching a widespread plague. After recovering from the shock of being sold (and from the plague), Mark becomes fast friends with Lily, servant to the powerful astrologer Count Stelli. But the children's lives diverge quickly: when the doctor is cast out of Count Stelli's tower, Mark and Lily contract with each other to switch masters. Meanwhile, the city's most powerful citizens have plans for them, and both find their beliefs and lives pitted against forces they barely understand-and against each other. Charity, greed, freedom, fate and political scheming are all woven through debut author Whitley's richly conceived world. Readers will be buoyed by every small triumph that cannot be recorded in an account book. Ages 11-14. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
School Library Journal Review
Gr 6-8-In the city-state of Agora (or "marketplace"), everything is for sale and all goods and services can and must be traded or bartered. Children are property until they come of age at 12, and those who are poor are sold like any other commodity. Two such children are Lily, an orphan who enters into a service contract with old Count Stelli, an astrologer. Most of Mark's family dies of the plague and his father sells him to Doctor Theophilus, son of the Count. Their lives intersect and diverge when they switch places. Lily questions the values of Agoran society and sets up a free shelter for citizens needing help. Mark is drawn in to intrigue and mystery as he becomes a prominent fortune-teller. There is a sense of darkness and danger at the heart of this society, which is embodied in the Midnight Charter, a document that predicts the coming of the Protagonist and the Antagonist, and that suggests that these two figures, possibly Mark and Lily, will alter their world forever. Whitley creates a number of memorable and full-bodied characters, along with a claustrophobic sense of a society set up as a utopia closing in on itself, and a morality that is at the extreme edge of reason. Exciting and gripping from the first heart-stopping line, this first book in a trilogy takes readers only part of the way to resolving the predictions of the Midnight Charter and its relationship to Mark and Lily. Readers will anxiously await the next installment as they reach the cliff-hanger ending.-Sue Giffard, Ethical Culture Fieldston School, New York City (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
A word that may not often be associated with teen literature is operatic, but it works to capture the measured drama of this ambitious novel. In the city of Agora, everything is commodified. Lives are bought and sold with the same blasé matter-of-factness as bread, and every transaction's contract is stored in the mysterious Directory of Receipts. Two 13-year-olds, Mark and Lily, form a fast friendship before embarking on divergent yet parallel paths in Agora's society. Mark leverages his talent for astrology to become a wildly successful businessman, while Lily opens an almshouse to feed and help those so heavily indebted that they are essentially untouchables. Each character clearly plays opposing sides in the pull between greed and charity, yet the story never feels heavy-handed, and a secret-society element adds a nice layer of intrigue. The pacing is slow, to be sure, and the prose can be dense, but the crescendo will captivate thoughtful readers, perhaps the same ones drawn to the more subversive, rather than fantastical, elements of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy.--Chipman, Ian Copyright 2009 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Newcomer Whitley crafts a dystopic novel that reads like fantasy rather than science fiction, refreshing in its classic approach. The completely self-contained city of Agora (the inhabitants believe nothing exists beyond the walls) runs on commerce. For every item or service there is an exchange; even death becomes a "life-theft" in this world. Founded on the zodiac and about to hit its 144th year, Agora stands poised for success or doom according to the secret Midnight Charter. In the midst of plots and counterplots stand two teens, who may have been foretold by the Charter and whose opposing experiences take center stage chapter by chapter: fierce, wonderful Lily, who believes in good for its own sake and founds a charity, and fame-obsessed Mark, whose meteoric rise makes him the darling of a city where reputation holds so much weight. Deft world-building and crafty plotting combine for a zinger of an ending that will leave readers poised for book two. Surprisingly sophisticated uppermiddle-grade fare, with enough meat to satisfy older readers as well. (Fantasy. 11 up) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.