Review: BURNING MIDNIGHT by Will McIntosh (Delacorte Press)

McIntoshW-BurningMidnightUSsmInteresting, fast-paced YA horror-sci-fi

Sully is a sphere dealer at a flea market. It doesn’t pay much — Alex Holliday’s stores have muscled out most of the independent sellers — but it helps him and his mom make the rent.

No one knows where the brilliant-colored spheres came from. One day they were just there, hidden all over the earth like huge gemstones. Burn a pair and they make you a little better: an inch taller, skilled at math, better-looking. The rarer the sphere, the greater the improvement — and the more expensive the sphere.

When Sully meets Hunter, a girl with a natural talent for finding spheres, the two start searching together. One day they find a Gold — a color no one has ever seen. And when Alex Holliday learns what they have, he will go to any lengths, will use all of his wealth and power, to take it from them.

There’s no question the Gold is priceless, but what does it actually do? None of them is aware of it yet, but the fate of the world rests on this little golden orb. Because all the world fights over the spheres, but no one knows where they come from, what their powers are, or why they’re here.

McIntosh’s first YA novel is a pretty interesting one: set in a world basically the same as our own, save for one rather intriguing difference — the presence of “spheres”. It’s a fast-paced, entertaining read, which I have no doubt many will enjoy.

The spheres in this reality offer users special abilities, depending on their colour — ranging from extra height or better athletic ability, to a facility with languages and singing, better teeth, or improved healing (to name but a handful). In order to acquire these new attributes or upgrades, a person must “burn” two spheres of the same colour, but raising them to their temples. After that, the spheres become useless. The world was suddenly populated by these spheres, which also range in rarity, and an entire industry has sprung up around finding and selling them — as with all industries, there are monopolists, and one of them is the antagonist in Burning Midnight, the Alex Holliday mentioned in the synopsis.

Holliday has already had dealings with the novel’s hero, Sully, when he cheated the young sphere hunter out of millions. After discovering an ultra-rare sphere, Sully attempted to sell it to Holliday, who had the second needed to burn. Instead of granting Holliday with more special abilities, it re-populated the world’s sphere supply. Obviously, not great for someone who makes a living from selling rare spheres… Needless to say, this early negative encounter colours Sully’s interactions with Holliday in this novel.

Over the course of the novel, we get to know not only Sully, but also his best friend, Dom; and most-importantly Hunter, a driven fellow sphere hunter (yes, her name is also her chosen profession) who has already endured a number of challenges, including living on the street and the death of her parents. McIntosh handles the budding romance between Sully and Hunter very well, neither rushing things, nor aging the two characters prematurely. All of the characters in the novel are interesting, diverse and pretty well-rounded (although, one is never in doubt as to who is important and who is peripheral). Sully’s struggles as someone trying to help keep his family afloat in Manhattan is realistic and a familiar tale.

As I’ve mentioned, the novel is pretty fast-paced — I read it over two days, in just a couple of sittings. I was certainly entertained, and the final act of the novel took an interesting diversion into a more horror-tinged science-fictional area (won’t spoil it) which I welcomed. Was it too quickly-paced? Maybe. Certainly, at times I thought it jumped ahead a bit suddenly, but I can nevertheless see why McIntosh decided to do this. Despite the momentum, the author still manages to give readers a good idea of the world’s acceptance of the spheres, not to mention the lack of concrete knowledge about their origin(s) and/or purpose — and we get more of this later in the novel, as Sully and Hunter’s adventures and experiments continue.

An enjoyable, very well-written read, Burning Midnight is recommended to anyone looking for a quick, imaginative and entertaining read.

***

Burning Midnight is due to be published by Delacorte Press in February 2016. Will McIntosh is also the author of Love Minus EightyThe Defenders (both published by Orbit in the UK and US), and also multiple short stories and novellas.

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