Summary: In the town of Bixby, five special teenagers called Midnighters discover they have one extra hour of the day, one hour starting exactly at midnight when every other human freezes in his or her tracks. The only problem: darklings also walk at this hour, and they like to eat humans. The Midnighters have developed ways to fight the darklings using metal and their special skills, but it seems as if the darklings have found human allies—and they can hunt at all the other hours of the day.
Review: As a beginning disclaimer, I read this book without having read the first book in the series. I was, in fact, oblivious that Midnighters is a series at all. Nothing on Touching Darkness says “Book 2,” and there are not even any review quotes that say something to the effect of “a stunning sequel!” Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Midnighters title is much larger and more noticeable than the Touching Darkness, which I only saw after having been suddenly enlightened to the fact that this book belongs to a trilogy.
One conclusion we can gain from this story is that I have my moments of being singularly unobservant. But it also reveals that Touching Darkness is great as a standalone. I was halfway through the book before I meandered over to Goodreads and discovered I had been missing the first part of the story all along. There are a few vague references to the fact that Jessica had previously fought the darklings and now they are all deeply afraid of her, but I was able to shrug this off as an eccentric back story. Otherwise, the book is full of enough background information that I had no difficulty understanding what Midnighters are, who all the characters are, or what types of things they do to fight the darklings.
Interestingly, this does lead one to question whether there is too much background for readers who choose, quite sensibly, to read the stories in order. Perhaps it could all come across as old news to anyone who reads straight through the trilogy, but it is doubtless a helpful reminder to anyone who puts a bit of space in between reading the first and second books.
Touching Darkness, as a standalone, is a very creative, creepy, and suspenseful work. Images of evil crawling things and humans that will hunt others down for money stand out on the pagers and will bring horrible visions to those reads this book late at night—even if the space in which darklings are able to materialize seems to be fairly localized. Westerfeld, as always, manages to create a unique, fascinating, and still believable world. In fact, a lot of focus is put onto how numbers and math can explain Bixby’s oddities.
The characters in Touching Darkness are also skillfully drawn. The focus is on the five Midnighters, all of who have distinct personalities to match their personal Midnighter talents. Together they have an intriguing and complex dynamic that readers will enjoy watching develop. Whether they are actually likeable, however, will be up to personal taste, as even they become testy with and annoyed by each other. I personally did not really relate to any of them, although I could see each of their merits. My favorite character may actually have been Jessica’s younger sister, whom I hope will have a larger role in the next book.
Touching Darkness was a fun, eerie adventure with a lot of action. It does not have the same urgency as Uglies, however, and even though there are a few loose ends, the third book does not even have to be read for it to feel like a complete story. A very solid book, but not mind-blowing.
Published: March 1, 2005
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