Monday, May 15, 2006

Midnighters, Book Three: Blue Noon by Scott Westerfeld

Since I've actually met Scott Westerfeld, I don't hold with those theories. You know, the ones where he's just the figurehead of a production studio of writers cranking out prose á la Alexandre Dumas or a made-up person like J.K. Rowling. (Trust me, that woman's real name is Madge Montgomery, and she's just a front for a litter of creative but distractable Shih Tzus. I have it on good authority.) Still, Westerfeld turns out a lot of books (something like ten in the past couple of years) and he could perhaps be forgiven if they sucked. But they don't.

Case in point, my fave of his efforts: the Midnighters series.

SPOILERS ABOUND HERE. STEP CAREFULLY LEST YE TRIP OVER PLOT-TYPE FACTS AND STUFF YE WOULD PROBABLY RATHER NOT KNOW IF YE PLAN TO READ THE MIDNIGHTERS BOOKS BUT HAVEN'T YET, KTHNX

Way back in Book One (The Secret Hour), Jessica Day moved with her family to Bixby, Texas and found out that she--by virtue of having been born at midnight exactly--was able to slip into a hidden time. Every time midnight comes around in Bixby, the world goes blue, and everyone not born within a second of midnight freezes for an hour. Rain doesn't fall, birds freeze in mid-air, and suspicious parents can't see or hear what their kids are doing. What's more, technology (Westerfeld refers to it more than once as "human cleverness") doesn't work--fire doesn't even burn.

The first time it happened Jessica freaked, but she soon learned that she wasn't entirely alone. There are four other Midnighters in town: Rex, the Seer; Melissa, the Mindcaster; Dess, the Polymath; and Jonathan, the Acrobat. At first none of them can figure out what Jessica's talent is, and they seem to be spending a lot of time rescuing her from the Darklings, natives of the "blue time" which take the shapes of snakes and spiders and cat-like things. The Darklings don't fear anything but fresh steel christened with 13-letter names like "Demonstration"; numbers are Dess's game, obviously, and Westerfeld has a lot of fun coming up with power names for the weapons the Midnighters carry.

What works about all this is that the Midnighters all have their own issues, and some of them don't get along. Melissa's mind talents make her antisocial by day, manipulative by night. Rex is arrogant about his knowledge of the Darklings and the blue time. Jonathan is more interested in bouncing around all night (his Acrobat powers mean that his personal gravity field is much weaker than normal during the secret hour) than in actually helping fight the baddies. And nobody knows what to make of Jessica until they discover her talent, that of the Flame-Bringer, able to bring fire into the blue time and wield a flashlight as a deadly weapon against the Darklings. Westerfeld plays effectively on some of the tropes of teen superheroes such as Buffy or Spidey ("Um, actually, the world might end if you ground me.") and pits the cluelessness of the adult world against the best intentions of the Midnighters, who really are trying to keep the Slithers from acting against the waking world.

By Book Three, Blue Noon, these kids have been through a lot. They've discovered a hidden Mindcaster in Bixby, and through her Melissa has found a way to control her powers. They've fought humans aligned with the Darklings, and Rex has been kidnapped and briefly bonded to one of the monsters. Jessica and Jonathan, Rex and Melissa have become romantically involved. Things seem to be going fairly well--until the blue time comes in the middle of a sunny morning, and a young girl gets lost inside it, and Dess figures out that the territory of the Darklings is beginning to expand.

What happens from there is fraught with tension and delirious action, as the best-laid plans of Seer (that's sarcasm; Rex's plans are like the plans of Fred from Scooby-Doo, and never work out quite as planned) and Darkling collide. The dangers come both from within the Midnighters' circle and without, and it all culminates in a night of literal fireworks, with much of Bixby pulled into a midnight hour that threatens to last a day and more. Westerfeld is smart enough to know that happy endings don't work if they don't cost, and the price the Midnighters pay is a heavy one. This book is--all three of these books are--a whip-fast roller-coaster ride; scary, smart, and tightly plotted. My only regret about the series is that it's over.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Karielle Mackey said...

will there be another sequel... it doesn't just at the blue noon does it?

10:47 AM  
Blogger Dave said...

Hi, Karielle; I don't know of any plans for more books right now, but you could ask Scott about it over at his blog!

11:01 AM  

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