REVIEW SUMMARY: Another fun book from Scott Westerfeld.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A group of kids who possess supernatural abilities during the midnight hour fight off the sinister darklings.
PROS: Fast-paced and interesting; cool depiction of the dark hour.
CONS: I would have liked to see more interplay between the characters when the Midnighters used their powers. The explanation of frozen time doesn’t quite hold up under any reasonable amount of scrutiny.
BOTTOM LINE: A fun read for kids and adults.
Seeing as how I read Scott Westerfeld’s Succession books and liked them very much, I wanted to read some more of his fiction. Since the other adult titles of his I own, Polymorph and Fine Prey, are buried away in some boxes in a remote and undisclosed location, scheduled to be unearthed around 2047, I thought I would try one of his young adult titles which was more readily at hand. His Midnighters series fit the bill quite nicely.
Book #1, titled The Secret Hour introduces the concept of the series: the day really has 25 hours and at midnight, time freezes for everyone except for a small group of young people who call themselves Midnighters. Each Midnighter has a special supernatural power during the dark hour. The bad news is that this is also the time when their hometown of Bixby, Oklahoma is populated by dark, sinister, shape-shifting creatures called the darklings. Jessica Day, a new Bixby resident, has yet to learn the town’s secret, but she will. Jessica is also a Midnighter with powers that are apparently so fierce, the darklings decide to emerge from the outer badlands and go after her.
Like his Succession series, Westerfeld has written a quick-moving story that keeps interest levels high. Fifteen-year-old Jessica, having just moved from Chicago to the small town of Bixby, has much to deal with. At first she thinks she is dreaming when a midnight rainstorm stops, water droplets hanging in mid-air, while the rest of the world emits a blue glow. Eventually she realizes she is not dreaming when she hooks up with a band of other high schoolers who share her ability to remain awake during the extra midnight hour.
Each of the Midnighters has a special power during the dark hour. Desdemona (Dess) is a polymath. Her expertise with numbers is a skill she uses to good effect when she charges weapons to fight off the darklings. Melissa is a psychic who can read the thoughts of everyone in Bixby and project her own. Her ability is somewhat of a handicap so she blocks the overwhelming “noise” of other people’s thoughts by listening to music headphones. Sadly for her, the dark hour is her only respite. Jonathan can defy gravity, hopping long distances giving him a pseudo-flying ability. Rex is a master of Midnighter lore, with the ability to see the signs of the phenomenon. Jessica’s, being new to the dark hour, has a power that is something of mystery and not revealed until the end of the book. Taken together, the Midnighters make a formidable team, but I would have liked to see more interplay between the characters when they used their powers.
The best parts of the book were when Westerfeld describes what life is like in the dark hour. For example, a motionless car in the street can become a sudden danger if you’re standing in front of it at 1:00 AM; Jessica runs her hand through some “frozen” rain and it wets her fingers; Non-Midnighters appear pale when the clock strikes twelve. The only thing that didn’t make too much sense is the exact nature and details of the frozen time with regards to time zones. When time is frozen in Bixby, the rest of the world is still in motion, right? How does that work? I guess the mention of collapsed time (12:00 AM for the Midnighters, the other 24 hours for the darklings) is supposed to explain it, but I would have like a more concrete explanation. Or maybe I’m being too nitpicky.
In recent discussions, it was mentioned that fiction aimed at (or perhaps “marketed to” is a better phrase) kids comes in two flavors: “children’s” fiction and “young adult”. The former is the more traditional definition where a book does not contain mature themes. The latter books contain mature themes like sex, violence, etc. I would classify The Secret Hour as a children’s book. The most mature thing within it is a budding romance and kiss between Jessica and someone with whom she can finally relate in her strange new environment. Parents of younger readers may also want to know that there is much sneaking about under the adults’ noses at midnight. Otherwise, it’s a normal portrayal of a kid’s life in a new town, a new school, and a bratty kid sister. Oh, and supernatural powers.
Overall, Midnighters #1 – The Secret Hour is a fun read for kids and adults.