Within a fiercely beautiful, cruel world, three young servants of three deadly witches change each other’s lives forever. Alicia Jasinska’s lush, darkly romantic The Midnight Girls is the subversive sapphic monster girl fantasy you’ve been waiting for.
In an alternate 18th century Poland, the three unholy sister witches of Lechija pit their servants against each other to steal hearts for them to devour. Each heart strengthens the witch, the purest hearts the most potent of all. In order for the servants to have power enough for such a deadly task, the witches have remade them into monsters. They look like girls, but Marynka manifests the vicious Midday Red Sun, Beata the daybreak of Bright Morning, and Zosia the swallowing darkness of Black Midnight. Beata serves White Jaga, the kindest of the three. Marynka serves Red Jaga, known for her painful punishments and her willingness to replace her servants with stronger ones should they displease her. Marykna is friendly with Beata, who’s not so secretly in love with her, but neither of them ever see Midnight—only the spoils she leaves behind when she’s first to steal a heart they all sought. Midnight has no friends. She serves Black Jaga, forced to dwell in the dark forest. Each girl has deadly powers enhanced by their times of day, the ability to transform into clawed creatures who can conjure sunlight or channel wind. Midnight is the strongest of the three, and for nearly as long as she can remember, it’s been Marynka’s deepest, driving passion to defeat her. But Midnight has her own plans, and they don’t involve remaining a servant for long.
The three servants are sent to steal the heart of a pure young prince. It’s in Warszów, which is decked in dazzling spectacle at the height of Karnawał season, that Marynka finally lays eyes on the girl who’s been her most ferocious motivation for so long. Suddenly, Midnight isn’t a myth anymore. She’s a powerful, aloof, infuriatingly beautiful girl, just as monstrous as Marynka. As they compete for their most dangerous prize yet, they may find themselves unlikely allies in the face of a world that fears them—or they might be each other’s downfall.
This is the perfect winter read, alight with magic and the searing, complicated feelings between the three girls. It’s a story of agency, as each girl has a different relationship with the witch who turned her into a monster—yet gave her more power than most could dream of. It’s a dark fairytale, with roots in Polish history and Slavic folklore, imagining a narrative for the servants of Baba Jaga, who typically remain nameless. And it’s a love story, but not a soft one.
These are savage sapphic girls, furious with want and proud in their monstrosity. Midnight and Midday are both morally gray at best, rival villains who can’t imagine a world without the other there to be defeated, to make them better. Jasinska delivers a sharp, satisfying crash of mutual pining wrapped in bloodstained teeth and ruthless competition. This is a rivals-to-lovers-but-still-always-rivals sort of story, and it’s such a satisfying rivalry because it cuts to the core of what I think makes the dynamic so intoxicating—a rivalry built not inherently on a power imbalance, but rather a dynamic that’s charged with passion from the start. Wanting to be the best version of yourself, if only to prove that you’re better than them. It’s a twisted sort of motivation, and of course, the best version of these girls is bloodthirsty and monstrous, which only makes it a more enjoyable read. Marynka and Zosia see each other as competitors, but each gives the other something to live for, something to fight for, someone to beat, in a world that otherwise sees them as disposable.
You’re not allowed to die, Marynka thinks at a crucial moment. If you die, I’ll be so bored. It’s a sapphic cat and mouse with two cats, and I love that they never soften each other. They’re ambitious to the teeth, and seek freedom in their own way. They bristle each time they’re forced to recognize the other might have a point. This book has enormous Killing Eve energy meets a bit of The Witcher, if it was told from the points of view of the monsters, with a good amount of elements from Wicked.
Jasinska makes it completely clear their queerness is not what makes them villains—their bloodthirstiness takes care of that. There’s no homophobia in this book, and there are also queer male side characters you can’t help but root for. The queer desire at the center of this story is also beautifully evoked—this is some damn good seething mutual pining. That familiar sapphic cringe of sure, you hate her so much, that’s why you can’t stop thinking about how good it would feel to beat her.
This is a glittering, compelling, richly rewarding read. The setting was fascinating, and the backdrop of Karnawał allows for the allure of masquerade and magic, layered with the twisty romance. The ending, while satisfyingly fitting, came on a bit quick for me, and I could have done with a few more details to the worldbuilding and magic, but that’s in no small part because I was enjoying the story so much. I did appreciate the accessible fast pace.
It’s just so deeply satisfying to get to read monstrous girls so unapologetically monstrous, to read rivals so unapologetically queer and ravenous for each other. Jasinska breathes life into fairytale and brings us angry, raucous girls as powerful and adversarial as the night and day that grant them their magic. The Midnight Girls is pure fun and adrenaline, vicious and enchanting.
The Midnight Girls is available from Sourcebooks Fire on December 28.
Maya Gittelman is a queer Pilipinx-Jewish diaspora writer and poet. Their cultural criticism has been published on The Body is Not An Apology and The Dot and Line. Formerly the events and special projects manager at a Manhattan branch of Barnes & Noble, she now works in independent publishing, and is currently at work on a novel.