For most of the human population, a day and night on Earth passes in twenty-four hours, with the clock resetting for the next day at midnight.

In the Midnighters trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, a cast of five teens discover that for some people, in some parts of the world - namely Bixby, Oklahoma, USA - there are twenty-five hours, with that extra secret hour folded and compressed into the second which the rest of us perceive as the transition between 11:59:59 and 12:00:00 on the clock. During this hidden hour, everybody else is unconscious and motionless, all lighting takes a shift toward the blue end of the colour spectrum, and electrical technology completely ceases to function.

The Midnighters themselves are people who were born at exactly midnight, and who, as a result of this precise natal timing, have the ability to be aware of The Secret Hour and can move about freely within it, while everybody else is in a state of stasis. Unfortunately for the Midnighters, humans of coincidental birth are not the only beings moving around during the "blue time," and the other creatures - malevolent sapient predators known as Darklings and Slithers - have it in for the kids. While this extra hour can mean a time of total freedom with zero parental supervision, it also means that every single night in Bixby, the kids have to find a way to avoid being killed or consumed by the Darklings who actively seek them.

This is not to say that the five teens in our story - Rex, Melissa, Jonathan, Desdemona, and Jessica - are completely defenseless or lacking their own cunning for survival in the blue time. As it happens, simply having access to the blue time is only the most basic of their powers, and every member of the group has his or her own unique ability which supports the continued existence of the group.

Here is the part where you want to stop reading, if you want to avoid too many spoilers (since everything up to this point could be inferred from reading the back covers of the three books of the series, The Secret Hour, Touching Darkness, and Blue Noon).

The first and arguably most vital power the Midnighters have is knowledge: Rex is the group's "Seer" and has the ability to read Lore which comes out of Midnight, a language he can innately translate; Dess is the group's "Polymath," and while that term applies normally to vast and varied knowledge, in this series it refers specifically to her incredible mathematical skills. The Darklings have a supernatural aversion to specific numbers (thirteen is bad for them; twelve is bad for us), human inventions like written languages and complex tools(they really do not like steel or modern alloys and petroleum-based products), and objects which combine these things. Rex and Dess are able to combine their knowledge of Darklings' weaknesses, mathematics, and human inventions, to weaponize objects which are otherwise ordinary; this is done by giving a piece of steel or other modern metal object a name which is a tridecalogism - thirteen letters, or multiples of thirteen letters, like a letter opener named SPONTANEOUSLY MACHIAVELLIAN DECEITFULNESS. It helps even more that Dess has a skill for thinking up tridecalogisms at the drop of a hat.

There is another layer to the group's knowledge base, but its usefulness manifests primarily in the waking hours of the day: Melissa is a "Mindcaster," a telepath who can read minds and plant ideas into other people's minds, as well as manipulate their memories. She is able to glean information during the day from people around Bixby (although usually the mental noise is overwhelming, especially in high school), and can then share that information with the other members of the group.

The second power at the Midnighters' disposal is mobility: Jonathan is the group's "Acrobat," a person for whom the laws of physics - especially gravity - are particularly forgiving and sometimes nearly nonexistent. Jonathan cannot fly, but he can jump incredible heights and distances, fall slowly, and land without any injury. He can also transmit this power to anybody and anything he is touching, and the group takes advantage of this frequently.

The third and most immediately potent power the kids can access belongs solely to Jessica, the "Flame-Bringer," who is able to activate fire and some electrical appliances - primarily flashlights, watches and clocks, and in one notable instance, automobiles. The Darklings' extreme aversion to light means that Jessica is the literal firepower for the group, and when she moves to Bixby and discovers the secret hour which the rest of the group had been aware of for most of their lives, her presence dramatically shifts the power dynamic: now, Midnight is no longer simply a matter of surviving for an hour; the kids now have enough force on their side to actively fight back against the encroaching Darklings.

This reviewer read the entire series in high school, over two days, and found it incredibly compelling, and an excellent and original endeavour into urban speculative horror, clearly targeting a young adult audience. Scott Westerfeld is also known for his dystopian Uglies and urban speculative horror Peeps series (do NOT read the latter soon after eating). His writing could be reasonably characterized as a kind of intersection between early Orson Scott Card, John Green (especially Paper Towns), and any Neal Shusterman. I anticipate that Westerfeld will come to be known as the very model of a modern YA fiction writer, and Midnighters is arguably his crowning work so far.

Iron Noder 2013, 2/30

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