Sunday, February 15, 2009

Midnighters Vol. 2: Touching Darkness (book) by Scott Westerfeld

I'll start this off with a warning - this post has spoilers, so don't read it unless you don't mind that.

This book picks up where the first one left off. Jessica Day and Jonathan are still a couple - sort of. Jessica's not entirely happy that Jonathan only seems to want to hold hands with her during the secret hour (or blue time, or whatever you want to call it). Dess is still obsessed with math, especially the math of Bixby, OK. Rex and Melissa still have secrets they're keeping from all the other Midnighters - although Rex does reveal something new to everyone, that at some point just a few decades ago, back when Bixby was smaller, most of the town knew about the secret hour. The town had lots of Midnighters. Then, for some unexplained reason, all the Midnighters disappeared. It's a mystery that has obsessed Rex for years.

Not long after Rex reveals all of this, Rex and Melissa stumble upon something horrific. Not only is there a group of regular humans communicating with and aiding darklings, the darkling they're communicating with is a horrible hybrid, a darkling fused with the still-living body of a former Midnighter. Melissa, with her psychic abilities, can tell that the former Midnighter is dying and that she was a seer - once the girl is dead, the darklings will want someone to replace her, and Rex is their best bet. The Midnighters scramble to keep Jessica (their best weapon in the secret hour) and Rex safe, somehow free or kill the trapped Midnighter, and stop the humans who are aiding the darklings.

Instead of working together, the Midnighters often tend to stick with their own little groups. Jessica is almost too wrapped up in her worries about her relationship with Jonathan to think about all the danger she and everyone else is in. Rex and Melissa share a terrible secret that they can't/won't let the other Midnighters know about - plus, they're testing out actually touching each other, which, considering Melissa's touching phobia, pratically counts as kissing. Dess has known for years that Rex and Melissa have been hiding things from everyone, so she's determined to keep her mathematical exploration of Bixby a secret - and when she actually stumbles across something big, her secrets start to rival Rex and Melissa's.

This was a very exciting continuation of the Midnighters trilogy (just found out there's a third book - yay!). While the perspective switching can still be a bit odd and distracting, I'm glad that Jessica isn't the main focus of the story. Had that been the case, it would've been a boring book, since she most definitely did not have the most interesting part of the story. True, I'm a romance fan, but there's only so much "does he really like me when we're not in the secret hour?" that I can take, especially when the only thing complicating the issue is Jessica's fear of talking about her feelings with Jonathan (and, I guess, Jonathan's obliviousness to Jessica's worries). One thing I did find intersting about Jessica's part of the story was her relationship with Beth, her sister, which made me feel a little sister-needy myself. The relationship felt very real - however annoyed the two may get with each other, they still worry about each other and stick up for each other. I'm looking forward to seeing how Beth is going to deal with knowing about the Midnighters in the next volume - will she be jealous that she can't see the secret hour herself?

I found Rex and Melissa to be the second-most fascinating group in this volume. Their experiments with touching were filled with more awkwardness, nervousness, and tension than I think any scene between Jessica and Jonathan has ever been. I do hope that being closer to Rex will help fix whatever is a bit twisted or wrong inside Melissa, but I'm kind of doubting it will. In fact, the more confident Melissa gets after touching Rex, the more willing she seems to be to abuse her powers.

The secret they share, that Melissa, with Rex's help, is responsible for Rex's dad's condition, is pretty bad, but I somehow thought it would be worse. For one thing, it sounds like Rex's dad was pretty awful, psychologically torturing the poor kid. For another, some of the things Melissa seems to be thinking lately seem to be leading up to something even worse than what happened to Rex's dad. I have a feeling that during the third book she's going to start seriously abusing her power - after all, she already does that when she takes what she wants from Dex's mind without permission at the end of this book. One could argue that she only did what she did to Dex because she desperately wanted to save Rex, who she probably loves more than anyone else in the world. However, I'm thinking that it won't be long before she starts doing this sort of thing just because someone annoys her a little, or because she thinks it might be fun. The teacher who annoys her in the last half of this book will likely be first on her list.

Madeleine is one of the reasons I think Melissa is going to go bad. So far, mindcasters seem to be the most unstable of all the Midnighters (although, granted, we haven't really gotten to see many Midnighters). Melissa seems to be a bit unstable, and she's certainly cold. Madeleine has that same coldness; she's also ruthlessly pratical and possibly about as sane as Melissa, considering the years she's spent in self-imposed confinement. There seems to be something about the nature of the mindcasting ability that just twists people.

Speaking of Madeleine - I found Dess's chapters to be the most interesting ones in this book. Dess is the one who finds Madeleine and therefore discovers that she and the other Midnighters are not, in fact, alone, and never actually have been. For years they stumbled about on their own, figuring things out through trial and error (maybe with an occasional secret mental push from Madeleine?) when, only a short walk or drive away, there was someone there who could have been helping and guiding them. I could both understand and not understand why Madeleine didn't reveal herself to them - I was a little amazed that they weren't angrier with her, especially after they found out her part in the erradication of Bixby's Midnighters (which she seemed determined to blame primarily on air conditioning and TVs). Even before all of that was revealed, I was surprised that Dess let Madeleine put that block in her head. Dess doesn't have the same mindcaster phobia that Jonathan does, but still. I do have to say, though, that the block was really fascinating, and I enjoyed the way Westerfeld wrote about it, although I still don't understand how Dess could remember how to turn it on and off when she couldn't even remember that it existed.

Overall, I'm enjoying this trilogy and I can't wait to see how it ends. I still don't think it's quite as good as some of Westerfeld's other books, but it's certainly not bad.

  • The Summoning (book) by Kelley Armstrong - After Chloe Saunders suddenly starts seeing ghosts, her father and her aunt have her admitted to Lyle House, a home for troubled teens. All Chloe wants is to convince the adults at Lyle House that she's better and can leave, but it's not long before she starts noticing that there may be something sinister going on. A couple of the other teens at Lyle House are convinced that Chloe really can see ghosts and is, in fact, a necromancer - they may know what they're talking about, since one of them can do magic. Those who'd like another story about teens with special powers trying to deal with the dangers that surround them might enjoy this book.
  • Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace (book) by MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi - This is the first book in the Jennifer Scales series. Jennifer Scales has no reason to believe she isn't an ordinary girl in an ordinary family - until she suddenly develops the ability to shapeshift into a dragon, and her parents admit that she's half-dragon, half-Beaststalker. As if her life wasn't complicated enough, Jennifer has to figure out how to protect herself and her family from beings who view her as their natural enemy. Those who'd like another story involving teens with special powers who live in a town with lots of secrets might enjoy this book.
  • After School Nightmare (manga) by Setona Mizushiro - Ichijo Mashiro is one of several students at his school who are made to attend a special class, in which students battle each other in a dream world. Almost everyone's dream selves look nothing like their waking selves, but, unfortunately, this is not the case for Ichijo. His dream self reveals his most closely guarded secret, that he is neither male nor female. As the series progresses, more students' secrets are revealed. Those who'd like another story with a similar tone and characters (some are more emotionally damaged than others, they have special powers only in a specific environment, etc.) might enjoy this series. Be warned, the sexual elements in this story are stronger than in any of Westerfeld's books.
  • Coraline (book) by Neil Gaiman - I'm not sure if I've actually managed to link to an edition of the book, or if what I've linked to is only a retelling of the story in a new format, so beware - I was a little surprised that the edition I read is no longer available. Anyway, in this strange and creepy story, Coraline and her family have recently moved into a new home. While exploring her home on her own, Coraline ends up stumbling into a version of the world much like her own, only freakier. Her other mother and other father (her mother and father in this alternate world) want Coraline to stay and be their little girl. Coraline becomes trapped in this other world and must figure out how to free her real parents and escape. The intended audience for this book is a bit younger than for Midnighters. Although older readers will likely be able to figure out where Coraline's parents are well before the ending, this world Gaiman describes is just creepy enough to keep those same readers hooked. Those who'd like another story with a mix of mystery and creepy horror might want to try this book.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. What a great review. I have to say that you were right on with everything. I have read all the series and wrote a review as well, but I think you have topped mine.

    I also did not understand why the group didn't work more together and why they let Madeline off so easy (but she does get paid back, you'll see more in Blue Noon). And Jessica worrying so much about Jonathan instead of the troubles they were facing seemed wrong and was very boring.

    Also Melissa does start abusing her powers, but by the 3rd book she calms down and is more relaxed and serene. Though Dess still keeps her distance. (I think Dess was my favorite Midnighter)

    I hope I didn't give too much away. I'm sure you'll enjoy the third as much as the rest.

    Thanks for a great review! Come visit mine if you want - Midnighters Trilogy