cover image MIDNIGHTERS: The Secret Hour

MIDNIGHTERS: The Secret Hour

Scott Westerfeld, . . HarperCollins/Eos, $15.99 (297pp) ISBN 978-0-06-051951-3

Westerfeld (The Risen Empire ) begins this inventive contemporary fantasy—first in a planned trilogy—as a new-kid-in-high-school story; he quickly introduces a few surreal bits and then begins revealing his secrets in careful increments. Jessica Day has moved to the odd town of Bixby, Okla., where the water tastes odd and, she is told, "gives you funny dreams." The misfits at school, Dess, Rex and Melissa, see a kindred spirit in Jessica: like them, she was born at nearly the exact stroke of midnight, giving her the ability to experience the 25th hour of each day, which is "rolled up too tight" for the rest of humanity even to notice. This lost hour has its own breed of predators ("darklings") who don't exist at any other time and who are terrified of stainless steel and 13-letter words; but ever since Jessica arrived in town, darkling activity has been on the rise. The story moves quickly, and the structure is satisfying—the author answers all the questions he highlights in this initial volume while leaving room for the plot to develop in the sequels. A devilishly unraveled loose end on the last page will ensure an audience for the next installment. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)