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The Midnighters Trilogy

by Scott Westerfeld

Midnighters: The Secret Hour

(Atom, £6.99, 304 pages, paperback, this edition published April 2006.)

Midnighters: Touching Darkness

(Atom, £6.99, 306 pages, paperback, first published 2005, this edition published August 2006.)

Midnighters: Blue Noon

(Atom, £6.99, 352 pages, paperback, this edition published November 2006.)

 

Review by Gary Couzens

cover scanFifteen-year-old Jessica Day, her younger sister Beth and her parents move from Chicago to Bixby, Oklahoma. Soon after her arrival, Jessica notices something strange. At midnight time freezes and the "blue time" starts -- an extra unknown hour of the day that it seems only she is aware of. But she is wrong. Strange, threatening creatures called darklings wander around in the blue time, and the town's only defence is a group of young people known as Midnighters. Rex is a Seer, whose knowledge of blue-time lore is unparalleled. Melissa can read minds. Maths geek Dess constructs the weapons they fight the darklings with. Jonathan, who soon becomes Jessica's boyfriend, is an acrobat, with the ability to fly and leap great distances. But what strange ability does Jessica have?

Scott Westerfeld has been a remarkably prolific writer of young-adult fiction in the last five years or so. In that time he has produced this trilogy, another science-fictional series (Uglies, Pretties and Specials), two vampire novels set in New York (Peeps and The Last Days) and a non-genre satire on "cool hunting" (So Yesterday). Even granting that as young-adult novels they will tend to be shorter than adult novels have to be, that's quite some achievement.

cover scancover scan

Midnighters has the feel of one very long novel split into three. It has a continuous narrative which covers a span of two months, beginning with the start of school in early September and reaching its climax on Halloween Night. The events of the middle volume take place over just one week.

The Secret Hour brings Jessica to Bixby and deals with her discovery of the blue time, and of her fellow midnighters. It also lays down the ground rules: in short, twelves are bad, but thirteens are good, and the weapons the Midnighters use against the Darklings all bear tridecalogisms (thirteen-letter words) as names. The book ends with Jessica discovering what her own special power is.

Book Two, Touching Darkness broadens the premise out. The Midnighters discover where earlier ones of their kind went, and why they appear to be the only ones alive. Meanwhile Rex has his own encounter with the Darklings, which draws him over to their side.

By Book Three, Blue Noon, boundaries are beginning to break down, heralded by a surprise appearance of the Blue Time in the middle of the day. This builds up to a massive confrontation between the Midnighters and the Darklings on Halloween Night, with the fate of the town at stake.

The Midnighters trilogy is an entertaining series that relies on the interaction between its engaging characters as much as its action setpieces and its well-worked-out premise. Given the likely audience for much young-adult fiction, it's the girls who make the more vivid impression: Jonathan isn't much more than a boyfriend, and Rex -- who has one of the deepest conflicts of all of them -- tends to be kept at a distance. On the other hand, Dess (short for Desdemona), the lonely maths geek, is very engaging, and the sibling rivalry between Jessica and her younger sister Beth (who soon suspects something is going on with her big sister) is very well captured. This level of characterisation lifts this series above the ordinary -- it's a good fast-paced read that, in its semi-downbeat but open ending, does leave room for more.


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