Several years ago indestructible glass spheres of vibrant hues suddenly appeared all over the world hidden within man-made objects, each colour granting a unique benefit to whoever absorbs its power, such as extra height, better health, clearer memory, greater strength or increased attractiveness. Sully is a teenage merchant in the spheres, running a stall at a flea market, buying and selling the spheres as one of the few independent traders not run out of business by ruthless billionaire Alex Holliday. Soon after meeting an expert sphere hunter named, er, Hunter (who also happens to be the girl of his dreams), the discovery of two never-before-seen colours make it clear that something has changed and that the underlying mystery behind the sphere’s appearance might be revealed.
Burning Midnight is an expansion of McIntosh’s short story Midnight Blue, and it shows. It’s a great idea and one that presents a number of possible scenarios, but its insubstantial narrative fails to capitalise on them. The story is most engaging in its early stages, as it introduces the various specific colours of the spheres and the myriad of enhancements each bestows, but after a while it becomes apparent that there isn’t a lot more to it. The story is marred by a lack of true conflict, with nominal antagonist Holliday only making brief appearances, during which he comes off more like a hissing pantomime villain than a credible threat.
To its credit, the story credibly creates a world where the phenomenon of the spheres is integrated into ordinary life, becoming a significant part of the everyday without dominating it. An entire industry has built up around the buying and selling of spheres, the rarer colours providing proportionally greater benefits and commanding astronomical prices. That Sully’s own business barely scrapes by, and the potential failure in the sphere-questing exploits he and Hunter undertake, provides the story with its few consequences for characters’ choices. Hunter herself is a largely taciturn presence, due to an appropriately tragic backstory and it remains difficult to get a read on her, in particular her growing attraction to Sully. While she never approaches the dreaded MPDG territory, she is still largely defined by what Sully feels for her.
The central premise of Burning Midnight is quite an intriguing one, so it’s frustrating that such potential is squandered in a meandering plot, that takes too long to actually go anywhere, and when it does it’s far too quick in bringing things to a head and subsequently resolving them. In short, it’s a book you’ll want to like more, but lacks the substance to allow you to do so.
BURNING MIDNIGHT / AUTHOR: WILL MCINTOSH / PUBLISHER: MACMILLAN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW