By Patrick Wolf
Years ago I watched M. Night Shyamalan’s first bad movie: The Village. What’s interesting about The Village is that the film isn’t terrible in-itself. Had the movie been marketed honestly, I’m sure it would’ve received better reviews. The problem was The Village was advertised as a horror when really it was a romance, and that sat poorly with viewers. In many ways, The Girl in the Midnight Gown suffers from a similar fate.
While Midnight Gown doesn’t have the same misleading ad campaign, it does have a lot of broken promises. Midnight Gown teases elements of a fantasy epic filled with floating cities, flaming dragons, and magical witches, when in reality it merely flaunts these archetypes to keep the reader’s interest. As you delve into the narrative, you’ll find all these elements aren’t really present. And when they are, they’re just cheap strands of tinsel hung onto the spine of a lackluster story with the hope that you won’t notice what it’s covering up. So, if you’re planning on picking up a copy of The Girl in the Midnight Gown, prepare for a situation similar to The Village: a whole lot of style with very little substance.
Strangely enough, just as The Village ends as a missing-persons story, Midnight Gown begins as one. Lela’s sister, Darby, has suddenly vanished and the police are completely clueless as to where she might have gone. As the tension rises, Lela suddenly receives a mysterious text depicting a picture of a map. She follows the map to a mysterious tavern called ‘Abe’s’. Here Lela learns this is where heroes go to find work, and before she knows it, she’s off on an adventure to find her sister with the ‘girl in the midnight gown’.
While the premise to Midnight Gown certainly seems interesting enough, the story’s tension quickly flattens out. Even though Simon Birks does a good job of setting up the action in act one, he fails to incorporate the narrative structure necessary to keep the story moving forward. The problem is there’s not enough plot twists: there’s no mid-point pinch, no rising action, and no all-is-lost moment. The story does have a third-act twist, but it’s more confusing than compelling. In fact, the most action you’ll get from this tale has already summed up in the above synopsis.
Related to the story’s lack of action, Midnight Gown also suffers from a complete absence of conflict. With the exception of the first act, Lela barely experiences any resistance at all. Literally every person she meets wants to help. There’s no antagonist, no conflict, no action. Even the dragons do their part. At best, the most resistance Lela receives is from her guide, Sarah, who annoyingly spouts pseudo-philosophy whenever she can, and inappropriately extorts Lela to write her a story before she brings her to her lost sister. But besides having an irritating guide, you may as well watch some girl walk around a field for an hour: nothing happens. I get it that Birks wants to keep this book family friendly, but ‘family friendly’ doesn’t mean devoid of suspense and imagination.
Speaking of imagination, prepare to stretch yours if you’re going to bother filling-in all of Midnight Gown's plot holes. WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. To begin with (1) why did Darby run away in the first place? Was she unhappy? Was she trying to teach Lela a lesson? Was she high on crystal meth? We’ll never know. (2) Why did Lela not notice that her guide Sarah was really her sister Darby? At no point in the story is Sarah (the girl in the midnight gown) wearing a disguise. She doesn’t even have the decency to put on a pair of glasses like Clark Kent. So why is it that Lela doesn’t notice Sarah’s her sister? (3) What’s the point of Lela’s story? Throughout the second act, Sarah tells Lela that without a story she cannot bring her to her sister. So, Lela tells her the story and all is revealed. But, we’re never told why the story was necessary to Darby’s discovery? Was it part of some magical curse? Was Darby trying to teach Lela some secret wisdom? Is Darby a bad storyteller looking to plagiarize? Again, we’ll never know.
I could go on criticizing a series of other questionable plot elements (like why the parents of a missing child let their younger child follow a random text message into a hidden lair), but I’m a busy man and I’ve already wasted an hour of my life reading The Girl in the Midnight Gown. Normally, I’d give this story a 1-out-of-5, but I’m going to give it a two primarily because it’s a kids’ story, so I’m assuming some children out there might actually enjoy it. I, for one, have a nephew who loves cardboard boxes, so it’s possible this book may be an outlet for some poor child’s imagination. Personally, I’d prefer the box.
The Girl in the Midnight Gown
Writer: Simon Birks
Artist: Juan Fleites
Colorist: Juan Fleites
Letterer: Juan Fleites
Publisher: Blue Fox Comics