YA Weekend: Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
A review copy was provided by the author in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Delacorte Press (February 2, 2016)
Length: 320 pages
Burning Midnight is Will McIntosh’s first Young Adult novel, and even though it didn’t hit me emotionally as hard as his adult books Defenders or Love Minus Eighty (which is one of my favorite books ever!) I nonetheless found it incredibly entertaining and addictive. It even disrupted my nightly ritual of reading to calm my mind before bed, because all this book did was make me even more wide awake with my blood pumped up and heart pounding.
I also loved the unique concept behind Midnight Burning. Imagine going to sleep one day and waking up the next to find that everything has changed, thanks to the sudden appearance of strange, colorful marble-sized spheres all over the world. You can find them anywhere there is human activity, but they are always hidden well–inside storm drains, fountains, crawlspaces, discarded bottles, etc. And when you put a matched set of the same color to your temples (in a process called “burning” the spheres) they can permanently enhance your features and abilities. Burning a pair of Chocolate browns can make you stronger, for example, and Cranberries can make you better looking. Aquamarines will grant you quick healing, Vermillions allow you to sleep less (that’s one I could TOTALLY use), and Ruby reds give you perfect teeth…basically, there are dozens upon dozens of sphere colors and their effects.
Of course, some colors are rarer than others, and there’s a lot more demand for the desirable traits. As a result, a whole industry has sprung up around the spheres. Some businessmen made a fortune dealing in spheres, like the shady industry mogul Alex Holliday, but also on the other side of the spectrum are those like our protagonist David “Sully” Sullivan, a high school student who buys and sells them out of a modest little stall at the local flea market on weekends. Desperate for money after his mom loses his job, Sully decides to join forces with Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres. Together, they hope to strike it rich soon with one big find, and then one day, they get lucky—really lucky. Sully and Hunter find a Gold, a color that no one has ever seen before, so it’s a mystery what a pair of them will even do. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s possibly the rarest sphere in the world, and when Holliday catches wind of it, Sully knows the evil billionaire will do anything in his power to possess it.
In the acknowledgements, I found out Burning Midnight was actually expanded from a short story by Will McIntosh called “Midnight Blue”, and it would be really interesting to see how that might have influenced the structure of the plot, since I noticed a distinct shift between the first half of the novel and its second half. The pivotal point, of course, was when Sully and Hunter find the Gold—which happens almost exactly halfway through the book. Before this, the story was definitely slower, focusing more on the world building and developing the characters and their relationships. On the other hand, the second half was where all the action was! In truth, this turned out really well, with the more gradual pacing in the beginning acting as a nice long fuse to work up to the explosive ending. I was practically burning with anticipation (sorry, pun unavoidable) to find out the mystery behind the spheres and how everything would play out.
I have to say, the answers were surprising. I won’t spoil the end, but it’s safe to say I didn’t see the twist coming at all. Throughout the entire book is this disconcerting feeling that the spheres are too good to be true, and McIntosh even encourages the suspicion by including a character who wisely suggests that there’s “no free lunch”. Things in the book did wrap up a little too quickly and neatly for my tastes, but my mind is still blown by the revelations which I can only describe as pretty unexpected and far out there.
Ultimately, it was really refreshing to get away from magic and dive into something strange, weird and mysterious like the spheres. One has to wonder if the story was in any way inspired by collectible card games or other hobbies that involve hunting for rare items (assigning a value to spheres based on its rarity, listing/buying spheres on eBay, hitting up sphere dealers for the best price to complete a set, etc.…all these activities inevitably reminded me of my days of scouring hobby store displays to find those rare cards I needed to build my Magic deck.) Whichever way you look at it though, the story was tons of fun and the originality alone makes this book worth checking out.
Overall, Midnight Burning was a very quick and enjoyable read, with one of the coolest concepts I’ve ever seen. I devoured it in about two sittings, after I finally gave up on trying to go to sleep and admitted to myself I’d so much rather be reading this book. Will McIntosh is one of my favorite authors and I’ll read any book he writes, and I am thrilled that he made such a great debut into YA fiction.