Amy Reviews: Scott Westerfeld - "The Secret Hour"
I read this book in one day. Nope, it’s no shorter than most YA novels. Yep, it really is that good.
The first lesson I re-learned from The Secret Hour is ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. Or rather, ‘don’t judge a book by its back cover’. If you’re looking at a UK copy, published by Atom/Little Brown, it reads:
As the new girl at Bixby High School, Jessica Day expected some unwelcome attention. What she didn’t expect was to feel an instant connection to a stranger in the corridor…
Who is this boy dressed in black? And why can she feel his eyes following her wherever she goes?
There is a romance subplot in Scott Westerfeld’s novel but it doesn’t kick in until a third of the way through the book. But I digress…
So, what’s the novel really about? Well, it’s not exactly boy-centric. The protagonist, Jessica, relocates to a new town to find that at the stroke of midnight, time freezes and the twenty-fifth hour begins.
Only people born at the midnight instant are able to perceive the secret hour, and only in Bixby. Jessica is befriended by four other midnighters, who help her to understand what she is experiencing.
Rex is a ‘seer’, able to perceive other midnighters by sight and read the ancient midnighter lore. Melissa is a ‘mindcaster’, or psychic, and is often overwhelmed by the amount she can sense from other people’s minds. Dess is a ‘polymath’ who’s able to use mathematics and numbers against enemies in the secret hour, and Jonathan is an ‘acrobat’, and is not subject to the same rules of gravity as the rest.
In this first book, the predators which inhabit the twenty-fifth hour, the darklings and slithers, are hell-bent on destroying Jessica. The mystery is, why? They pursue her with single-minded intent, and there are many more of them than the other midnighters are accustomed to.
Jessica spends her midnight hours avoiding the creatures who want her dead, and with the others’ help, she attempts to figure out what her own unique power is.
The characters are in their junior year of high school, and the third-person narrative flicks between them, keeping Jessica as the main focus. There are scenes set at the school, but most of the story takes place after dark, in the time before, during and after the secret hour.
And it’s fantastic! There are elements of conflict between group members, who all have their own quirks. The slithers and darklings are a strange combination of malevolent, fearful and animalistic. The romance between Jessica and Jonathan unfolds at a steady pace, yet is devoid of cliché.
I felt a little let down by the eventual revelation of Jessica’s midnighter talent, but this is the first book in the trilogy, and there’s plenty of time left for the implications of it to be fully explained. I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a while; since I plan to dive straight into the second novel, Touching Darkness, I have a feeling I won’t be sceptical for long.
Publisher: HarperTeen (March 1, 2005)
* * * Coming Soon: Amy reviews book 2 and 3 in the Midnighter series and Bec interviews Scott Westerfeld.